David Walker's Appeal

Overview

David Walker's Appeal is a landmark work of American history and letters, the most radical piece of writing by an African American in the nineteenth century. Startling in its intensity, unrelenting in its attacks on slavery and white racism, it alarmed Southern slaveholders, inspired Northern abolitionists, and hastened the sectional conflicts that led to the Civil War. In this new edition of the Appeal, the distinguished historian Sean Wilentz draws on a generation of innovative research to throw fresh light on ...

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Overview

David Walker's Appeal is a landmark work of American history and letters, the most radical piece of writing by an African American in the nineteenth century. Startling in its intensity, unrelenting in its attacks on slavery and white racism, it alarmed Southern slaveholders, inspired Northern abolitionists, and hastened the sectional conflicts that led to the Civil War. In this new edition of the Appeal, the distinguished historian Sean Wilentz draws on a generation of innovative research to throw fresh light on Walker's life and ideas--and their enduring importance.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"More than a century and a half later, David Walker's Appeal is still a startling document . . . a powerful reminder that slaves and so-called 'free persons of color' were important participants in the great struggle over slavery that led to the Civil War." --From the Introduction

Sacred Fire
Self-published in 1829 and distributed to slaves throughout southern plantations through ingenious methods, Walker's Appeal caused a firestorm reaction among southern slaveholders. The subversive intent of Appeal which called for violent resistance against slavery, made Walker a marked man. His appeal to resistance was not rooted solely in retribution. Walker based his arguments on biblical and historical examples of resistance. He was truly committed to social change but keenly aware of the radical means required to achieve it. Walker's Appeal can be said to be an early African American precursor to Malcolm's By Any Means Necessary or The Ballot or the Bullet—a fearless cry for freedom, by any means necessary.

But while Appeal's fame rests on its militancy, Walker was not a simple bomb-throwing revolutionary. Like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, and innumerable other African American activists who would follow, Walker firmly believed in and based his arguments on the same principles that white Americans so righteously claimed: those found in the Bible and in the U.S. Constitution. But Walker was a realist; he held out faint hope that white Americans would, on their own, ever hold to the principles of their sacred and civic scriptures. Walker also showed his thoughtfulness by providing in his Appeal a program for the development of his people after the abolition of slavery.

Unfortunately, what "appealed" most to the authorities of the time was Walker's death. A price was put on his head and he was found dead in June of 1830, an apparent victim of poison. Still, upon reading Walker's Appeal, the white aristocracy was put on notice—the days of the slaver were numbered. Less than a year and a half after the publication of Walker's work, Nat Turner's rebellion demonstrated in action the commitment to liberation that Walker articulated with such fire in his Appeal.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809015818
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 4/30/1995
  • Series: American Century Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 624,452
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author

David Walker was born in or near Wilmington, North Carolina, the son of a slave father and a free black mother (thus, under the laws of slavery, he was born free). the year of his birth is uncertain, although the most convincing recent research contends that it was 1796 or 1797. By his own account in the Appeal, Walker left Wilmington as a young man and wandered around the United States, residing for an unspecified period in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1825, he turned up as a used-clothes dealer in Boston, where he would spend the rest of his abbreviated life. He died suddenly in 1830.

Sean Wilentz is the Cotsen Fellow and professor of history at Princeton University. His books include Chants Democratic and, with Paul E. Johnson, The Kingdom of Matthias.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Mysteries of David Walker
Preamble 1
Article I: Our Wretchedness in Consequence of Slavery 7
Article II: Our Wretchedness in Consequence of Ignorance 19
Article III: Our Wretchedness in Consequence of the Preachers of the Religion of Jesus Christ 35
Article IV: Our Wretchedness in Consequence of the Colonizing Plan 45
Appendix I: Walker's Address to the Massachusetts General Colored Association 79
Appendix II: Edward Smith's Confession of Sedition in Distributing Copies of the Appeal 85
Selected Reading 89
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