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David Walker and Walker’s Appeal
Consider one or more of the following passages:
“I saw a paragraph, a few years since, in a South Carolina paper, which, speaking of the barbarity of the Turks, it said: “The Turks are the most barbarous people in the world–they treat the Greeks more like brutes than human beings.” And in the same paper was an advertisement, which said: “Eight well built Virginia and Maryland Negro fellows and four wenches will positively be sold this day, to the highest bidder!” And what astonished me still more was, to see in this same humane paper! ! the cuts of three men, with clubs and budgets on their backs, and an advertisement offering a considerable sum of money for their apprehension and delivery. I declare, it is really so amusing to hear the Southerners and Westerners of this country talk about barbarity, that it is positively, enough to make a man smile” (p. 15).
“But we will leave the whites or Europeans as heathens, and take a view of them as Christians, in which capacity we see them as cruel, if not more so than ever. In fact, take them as a body, they are ten times more cruel, avaricious and unmerciful than ever they were; for while they were heathens, they were bad enough it is true, but it is positively a fact that they were not quite so audacious as to go and take vessel loads of men, women and children, and in cold blood, and through devilishness, throw them into the sea, and murder them in all kind of ways. While they were heathens, they were too ignorant for such barbarity. But being Christians, enlightened and sensible, they are completely prepared for such hellish cruelties” (pp. 20 – 21).
“For my own part, I am glad Mr. Jefferson has advanced his positions for your sake; for you will either have to contradict or confirm him by your own actions, and not by what our friends have said or done for us; for those things are other men’s labours, and do not satisfy the Americans, who are waiting for us to prove to them ourselves, that we are MEN, before they will be willing to admit the fact; for I pledge you my sacred word of honour, that Mr. Jefferson’s remarks respecting us, have sunk deep into the hearts of millions of the whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity.–For how can they, when we are confirming him every day, by our groveling submissions and treachery? I aver, that when I look over these United States of America, and the world, and see the ignorant deceptions and consequent wretchedness of my brethren, I am brought oftimes solemnly to a stand, and in the midst of my reflections I exclaim to my God, “Lord didst thou make us to be slaves to our brethren, the whites?” But when I reflect that God is just, and that millions of my wretched brethren would meet death with glory–yea, more, would plunge into the very mouths of cannons and be torn into particles as minute as the atoms which compose the elements of the earth, in preference to a mean submission to the lash of tyrants, I am with streaming eyes, compelled to shrink back into nothingness before my Maker, and exclaim again, thy will be done, O Lord God Almighty” (pp. 32 – 33).
“Do any of you say that you and your family are free and happy, and what have you to do with the wretched slaves and other people? So can I say, for I enjoy as much freedom as any of you, if I am not quite as well off as the best of you. Look into our freedom and happiness, and see of what kind they are composed!! They are of the very lowest kind–they are the very dregs!–they are the most servile and abject kind, that ever a people was in possession of! If any of you wish to know how FREE you are, let one of you start and go through the southern and western States of this country, and unless you travel as a slave to a white man (a servant is a slave to the man whom he serves) or have your free papers, (which if you are not careful they will get from you) if they do not take you up and put you in jail, and if you cannot give good evidence of your freedom, sell you into eternal slavery, I am not a living man: or any man of colour, immaterial who he is, or where he came from, if he is not the fourth from the negro race!! (as we are called) the white Christians of America will serve him the same they will sink him into wretchedness and degradation for ever while he lives. And yet some of you have the hardihood to say that you are free and happy! May God have mercy on your freedom and happiness!!” (pp. 33 – 34).
Consider one or more of the following questions, and elaborate:
David Walker was writing nearly 200 years ago. How do you respond personally to his Appeal? Do you think he balances passion and reason? Does his Christian faith inform your response to him? Do his questions about the nature of “freedom” among African Americans 200 years ago still resonate in ways today?