This Black History Month I’m Grateful for David Walker
". . .they want us for their slaves, and think nothing
of murdering us. . ."
I know less about David Walker than any other person I’ll
write about this month. That’s in part because he died in 1830 and largely
because there are very few historical records concerning him. We know that he
was a free Black man who died at only 35 and under mysterious circumstances.
Even now, Walker’s contributions to the US are subtle and have generally been
condemned when noticed. That’s because David Walker was scary!
Walker’s main contribution to American life was his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World.
The Appeal was the clearest possible
call for a violent revolt overthrowing slavery. It is not coincidental that Nat
Turner’s revolt followed soon after the Appeal nor is it coincidental that the
rights of free Blacks were limited in response to Walker.
While all these
individual elements were largely negative, Walker forced everyone in the
country to recognize the possibility that there would never be a strictly political
solution to slavery. Instead, while America crafted political agreements like
the Missouri Compromise that divided the country into slave and free regions,
some in the country were willing to force America toward change.
In some important senses, Walker’s descendants include
Turner, John Brown, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. All these men
eventually concluded that only violence would end the scourge of slavery in
America. Unlike those others, however, Walker remains marginalized in American
history. His early, prophetic vision of America’s future process did not come
to pass exactly as he imagined. Fortunately, much of his vision of America’s possibility
Today I am grateful for David Walker. You should be too.