In This Article David Walker

  • Introduction
  • Primary Texts
  • Walker’s Appeal Published by Others
  • Newspaper Articles
  • Biographies
  • Resources on David Walker
  • Reference Works
  • Reception of the Appeal
  • Black Nationalism
  • Books and the Press
  • Colonization
  • Comparative Studies
  • Ethiopianism and the Jeremiad Tradition
  • Philosophical Criticism
  • Religious Criticism
  • Further Studies

American Literature David Walker
by
Rebecca Hooker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0150

Introduction

David Walker (b. 1785 or 1796/1797?–d. 1830), born in Wilmington, North Carolina to an enslaved father and a free mother, was free from birth. He learned to read and write as a young man and left his home in Wilmington to travel throughout the United States before arriving in Boston in 1825. In 1827, he opened a used-clothing shop and that same year married his wife Eliza. The couple had one living child, Edwin Garrison Walker. Walker published one document, his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, which outlines injustices heaped upon blacks by slave owners and other Christian Americans, who used religion and republican principles to justify oppressing enslaved blacks. It also warns whites about God’s punishment because of this behavior. In addition, the Appeal criticizes free blacks for their lack of support and aid to slaves, opposes African colonization, and advocates armed resistance as a method of furthering God’s vengeance. While the Appeal represents all of Walker’s literary output, some record of his activities can be found in Freedom’s Journal, the first American black newspaper (1827–1829). Most notable is his “Address, Delivered before the General Colored Association at Boston” (19 December 1828) (see Newspaper Articles). No other written statements by Walker have been found. The Appeal caused great controversy, particularly in the South, where fears of slave insurrection were high. Southern lawmakers and governments labeled it seditious and worried that it might spur revolts if slaves acquired it. Therefore, they tried to prevent the document’s dissemination by passing strict laws against teaching slaves to read and quarantining the black sailors they felt would be its primary distributors. They also placed a $10,000 bounty on Walker’s head. In the North, Walker’s Appeal caused consternation among abolition leaders, who worried that his inflammatory statements might undermine their efforts. Because of the Southern bounty, when Walker was discovered on 3 August 1830 slumped over in his store’s doorway, many people believed, as some still do, that Walker was poisoned. Others assume he died of natural causes. David Walker was a polarizing figure during his time, but current scholarship recognizes him as a scholar, theologian, philosopher, and nationalist activist. His fiery rhetoric mirrors Civil Rights Movement leaders, specifically Malcolm X, whose ideas parallel Walker’s in many ways. Walker’s text has also had a dramatic effect on African-American authors since the time of its publication, as well as African-American Studies as an academic discipline.

Primary Texts

There are very few texts written by David Walker; however, his Appeal is frequently anthologized or reproduced on its own these days. Walker 1829 is the original version, published in the latter part of the year. Walker 1830a and Walker 1830b are essentially the same document, with some corrections of typographical errors and some emphasis added to highlight phrases that emphasize Walker’s point. In Walker 1830b, Walker added some sections that would intensify the point he is making. In the 20th-century volumes that have been published, editors have generally used the third edition, as it is the cleanest, most complete edition of Walker’s pamphlet, and they have added introductions that contextualize the document for audiences living long after the events that shaped Walker’s world. Wiltse 1965, Walker 1993, Walker 1994, and Hinks 2000 include biographical information about Walker and the cultural context of early-19th-century Boston in their introductions, as well as the tension surrounding the document’s publication.

  • Hinks, Peter P., ed. David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

    E-mail Citation »

    In this edition of the Appeal, Hinks provides an introduction and extensive annotations that incorporate up-to-date research on Walker. Hinks also includes a unique appendix of documents showing the contemporary response to the Appeal itself and Walker’s attempts to distribute it in the South.

  • Walker, David. Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, the State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829. 1st ed. Boston: David Walker, 1829.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the first edition of Walker’s Appeal. It is referenced in the third edition, the one most commonly published and referenced.

  • Walker, David. Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, the State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829. Second Edition Corrections, Etc. 2d ed. Boston: David Walker, 1830a.

    E-mail Citation »

    This second edition of the Appeal contains changes in content and typography made by David Walker.

  • Walker, David. Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, the State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829. Third and Final Edition with Additional Notes, Corrections, Etc. 3d ed. Boston: David Walker, 1830b.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the original final edition of Walker’s pamphlet, the most commonly cited and duplicated edition of the Appeal. It was edited by Walker, but it is essentially the same as the second edition.

  • Walker, David. David Walker’s Appeal; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. Introduction by James Turner. Baltimore: Classic Black, 1993.

    E-mail Citation »

    In his introduction, Turner places Walker’s document in the context of its historical significance to the early abolition movement, praising the document for its African-centered perspective, specifically noting Walker’s early progressive Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Turner also claims that the document affected future writers and activists.

  • Walker, David. David Walker’s Appeal; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. Introduction by Sean Wilentz. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1994.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume contains an introduction by Wilentz and two appendices. One of these appendices is Walker’s “Address to the Massachusetts General Coloured Association,” and the other is “Edmund Smith’s Confession of Sedition in Distributing Copies of the Appeal.”

  • Wiltse, Charles M., ed. David Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1965.

    E-mail Citation »

    This volume reprints Walker’s Appeal and contains an introduction by Wiltse. In his brief introduction, Wiltse gives a short history of Walker’s life, discusses the Appeal’s reception, and discusses the influence Walker and his pamphlet had on the antislavery movement.

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