David Walker was an Abolitionist who wrote one of the most radical pamphlets of the anti-slavery movement. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina on September 28, 1785, his father was a slave and his mother was free. Because of his mother, David grew up free as well and was given an education. However, growing up free did not protect him from the ugly side of slavery. One incident that left a mark on him was being forced to watch a son whip his mother to death.
He moved to Boston, where there was a bit more freedom, but there was still discrimination. David set up a used clothing store in 1820’s on the waterfront. While in Boston, he began moving in Abolitionist circles. David became a contributor to the Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper. This led him to become one of the most well known anti-slavery voices in Boston by 1828.
In 1829, he wrote the pamphlet “Appeal…to the Colored Citizens of the World…”, in which he urged slave to fight for their freedom. This was the most radical statement against slavery to date. David relied on the sailors who frequented his used clothing store get his pamphlet to the enslaved men and women who were his audience. Sympathetic sailors and officers would take his pamphlet and pass them to sympathetic people in the South. He would sew the pamphlets into the linings of the coats he sold as well.
The effects in the South were immediate. Slaves who read or heard about the pamphlets had a renewed sense hope and pride. Slave owners, on the other hand, we’re horrified. New laws were enacted forbidding slaves to learn to read so they could not read the pamphlet. A price of $3,000 was put on David’s head, and they offered $10,000 to anyone who could bring him to the South alive. Friends feared for his safety and urged him to flee to Canada, but David refused. “Somebody must die in this cause,” he added. “I may be doomed to the stake and the fire, or to the scaffold tree, but it is not in me to falter if I can promote the work of emancipation.”
Soon after David published the third edition of his pamphlet in 1830, he was found dead in his shop. Many people suspected poison, however, later historians believe he may died of tuberculosis. This same disease also killed his daughter. Although he passed before he could see it, David’s son, Edwin G. Walker, was elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1866.
Sources available on request