David Walker was a little known black activist who wrote an article called “Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World,” in 1829. The document promoted a rise against slavery and asked white people to repent for their “sins of bondage.” Walker openly asked free blacks to help free others and white Christians to do the same. It was Walker’s mission to fight against the idea of black inferiority. He was the first black man to publish such a blatant abolitionist document.
Walker was born in Cape Fear, North Carolina in 1796. Though he was born free, he continuously felt the pangs of racism among the enslaved. He had moved to Boston by 1820 and became involved in the civil rights movement. He began writing for the Freedom's Journal out of New York City, the country’s first black newspaper.
Opposition was thick toward Walker’s publication. Southern whites arrested blacks that had the Appeal in their possession. The black Seaman who docked in Savannah, Georgia weren’t even allowed to get off the boats for fear that they would distribute Walkers pamphlet. Walker, who owned a clothing store in Boston, would often sew the pamphlet in the lining of the suits the sailors wore, to conceal the document that was forbidden in many states. The state of Georgia even issued a $10,000 bounty for Walker, alive and $3,000 for his head.
Walker died in 1830, possibly from tuberculosis, the same disease that took his daughter’s life. However, some believe he had been poisoned.
Walker’s legacy has not been written in the history books of America. His son, Edwin Garrison Walker, was among the first to serve in the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1866. Walker’s story was just recently updated in online resources. Visitors of the Beacon Hill, MA area will see a bronze plaque revealing the story of David Walker on his home courtesy of the Heritage Guild, Inc.
Historian and Boston University retired professor, Loretta Williams, has taken a special interest in Walker and is working to bring his story to the forefront. She, along with a few other historians, have launched the David Walker Memorial Project to preserve the legacy of a civil rights activist who exhibited truth and bravery during the most racially sensitive era in America.