David Walker's Appeal Summary

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David Walker’s Appeal is a religious and political text that called upon slaves to rebel to acquire “[freedom], equality, learning, and boundless opportunity” than just solely relying upon God to save them from their oppression (xxxi). Due to the lack of change or opportunities, the whites did not want to relinquish to the slaves, slavery continued to persist even though Thomas Jefferson created the Declaration of Independence, which passed in 1776. In addition, the whites back then perceived slaves as “inherent inferiorities [that affect white republican America]” (xxviii). Thus, slaves were still faced with injustices such as being unable to vote, being separated by their color of skin in terms of “housing, schooling, and justice,” and being affected by the new laws created to decrease their literacy to a further extent” (xxix-xl). For us to understand David Walker’s Appeal, his text should be understood as a historical document that initiated the end to slavery by incorporating religion, especially Christianity, and helped future abolitionist movements from Nat Turner, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr, and most importantly underscored a common cause for action to abolish slavery to gain the values that are stated in the Declaration of Independence (xli).

Before we further delve into David’s Walker Appeal, we should further focus on David Walker’s background and why he wanted to bring change within the African-American community. According to Rogers, even though he was born to an unknown father who was a slave and his unknown mother who was a freed slave, David Walker was born as a free slave in Wilmington, North Carolina (211). Throughout his childhood in Wilmington, North Carolina, he witnessed the oppression first-hand from thousands of African-Americans who were forced into slavery and performed hard, laboring tasks regardless of their competency. Some of these hard-laboring jobs included being “carpenters, contractors, or rivermen” (xv). Despite the physical toll the slaves endured, the slaves relied on their motivation stemming from their faith in Methodism. Thus, due to the strong nature of religious influence in his hometown, Walker wanted to continue this religious influence, especially Christianity, in Charleston, South Carolina, where African Americans gave credence to the same principles as those slaves in North Carolina. As Walker was continuing to explore the world from its continual support of racism and inequality in the African-American community, he eventually stayed in Boston to resolve this oppression in the African-American community (211). To mitigate the oppression, he first started by becoming a “community activist,” and this trajectory of activism throughout his life commenced with his work in the first African-American newspaper industry (Freedom’s Journal) (xxiv). With his great research and writing skills gained from working in the newspaper industry, he was able to establish and lead his own “[African-American] political organization [called the Massachusetts General Colored Association], which focused on “promoting aggressively and publicly for the abolition of slavery and the intellectual and moral improvement of [African-Americans through] not only just the embodiment of the African-Americans of Massachusetts but the Africans Americans of the entire nation (Walker xxiv).” Thus, David Walker even stated the purpose of the organization was “to unite the color population, so far, [that] the United States...and not withhold anything which may have the least tendency to meliorate our miserable condition” (xxiv). Even though this quote was found at the beginning of the book, the quote bolstered Walker’s intentions of pointing out the absurdity of the white political officials, such as Thomas Jefferson, of not abiding by the values of the Declaration of Independence that they championed for.

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The Declaration of Independence, which was signed on July 4th, 1776, was a huge historical document that became a pivotal component in highlighting Walker’s views on how there were inconsistencies between Thomas Jefferson's declaration and what he was trying to preach or advocate of the Declaration of Independence that he has signed. The first quote that immediately shocked Walker was the paradoxical manifestation of the work of Thomas Jefferson, who was one of the three Founding Fathers that signed the Declaration of Independence, which purportedly promoted equality than the racist rhetoric that Thomas Jefferson spewed. This racist rhetoric was when Thomas Jefferson described African-Americans to be “physically less attractive than whites, full of sexual impulsiveness detached from love, prone to lethargy when not employed, and dull, tasteless, and anomalous in their imagination, and far below the whites in the capacity to reason” (xxvi). On the other hand, the Declaration of Independence stated that “we hold truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal [and] that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men” (78). From the two quotes alone, David Walker wanted to highlight that Thomas Jefferson is living in a single-minded world. The world in which Thomas Jefferson is living is a utopian society since Thomas Jefferson was not empathetic towards African Americans. To compound the offense of the racist rhetoric that he proclaimed, he believed that African-Americans were also “a threat to democracy, [thus must be removed beyond the reach of mixture” (xxvii) due to being inferior in [both the endowments of our bodies and minds” (Walker 12). On the other hand, David Walker highlighted that a religious undertone prevailed when he was describing equality, not just with African-Americans but humanity as a whole. His journey throughout the nation served as the foundation for the development of his perception of other races, other than blacks, as deserving and warranted of freedom because of the adverse effects slavery imposed on an individual level. (Walker 3). In trying to decrease freedom, Walker underscored that when a “person has stripped away from his or her freedom based on his or her natural right” this should not happen since “God has given [people two eyes, two hands, two feet, and some sense in their heads as well]” (14). This quote or translation of the meaning came from footnotes that can be found on the last page of 14. This quote supported the notion that if people display the same physical features and biological construct, despite the variation of their skin color, it is contentious to determine this as a gauge for whether they are treated less equally or not. The consequences of racist rhetoric towards African-Americans during the 18th century have established further restrictions from African-Americans thriving in society for years to come.

Despite David Walker shouldering the blame on whites for oppressing slaves, he noticed that “America is more of the slaves’ country than it is the whites – we have enriched it with our blood and tears” (75). Walker underscored that African-Americans constructed the foundation of what America was at that time. Walker stated that while slaves are laboriously tending to the fields in the scorching sun, the white political officials are doing the least amount of work to change African-American slaves’ lives, in contrast to improving and enhancing each day of non-African-American slaves’ lives. Due to the nature of the prejudice enacted on African Americans, David Walker is infuriated that he believed that African-Americans should also be shouldered the blame for getting themselves incapacitated for perpetuation. David Walker conjectured that the African-American’s heart is full of ignorance in “the African-Americans’ belief is so dark and [like an] impenetrable abyss that the fathers have caused this” (22). He underscored that if slaves do not hold any trust in white political officials to bring about the change they desperately needed, then what makes the God that they believe in for a very long time can wield the means to enact the change they seek or desire? Thus, this has made slaves more proactive in starting a rebellion, with the motivation of change or mistrust from the government than laying idly with motivation by the words from the Gods, slaveholders, and most importantly white political officials.

As mentioned, David Walker was portrayed as someone who emphasized and wanted to spread Christian values due to how Christianity has affected his life. As a result, he believed that Christianity can also affect slaves in a positive aspect. He believed that African Americans must continue to have faith in God since their belief in God is their motivational factor since the dawn of slavery. This belief in God is possible since there was a rise of religious beliefs due to the Second Great Awakening, which was the inauguration of the dissemination of various types of religion, women’s movements, and, most importantly, eradicating the institution of slavery. Thus, David Walker wanted African slaves to have faith in their God, but Walker noted that only having faith in God (horizontal politics) will not get any results since the slaves will remain in the same situation as they were before. On the other hand, white political officials and white abolitionists were cautioned that if they do not concoct a method to end slavery before the slaves rebel for a common cause that “[if] the God Almighty commences his battle on the continent of America, for the oppression of his people, [that] tyrants will wish they were never born” (51). This quote is saying that the whites that supported the continued existence of slavery will be noticed by God and that God will “separate the innocent from the guilty”, so that the whites will suffer as much or as more than the slaves endured. (51).

As much as Walker wanted to bring significant change to the African American community, there was a bigger obstacle obstructing him from attaining his goal. The first towering obstacle is that a high proportion of the African-Americans or slaves at that time were illiterate. This illiteracy is attributed to little to no access to books and the lack of recreational time allotted for reading books. Moreover, some states or most Southern states completely banned books so that the slaves would not have extra knowledge and would not be able to bring change to the state or the nation that still supported slavery. With the lack of reading books, slaves were not able to write as well. As a result, due to the fear of getting caught reading books, the majority of the slaves were apprehensive that their lives could be at risk and did not want to exacerbate their lives even more which could also impact the lives of slaves from other nations. With the consequences kept in mind, Walker, who took a higher risk and higher reward approach, did not care about these consequences as long as he could endure them until his end goal was able to bring peace, hope, freedom, and equality to all African-Americans. Ironically, he did not seem to care about the slaves’ lives if his goal to send his book to the South went sideways, but ultimately he believed that change is not brought by the values that a person lives out but an immediate change is brought through action. Walker continued to underscore that the Appeal should be a universal book in every African American household, whether the African-America were educated or uneducated, just as a Bible is unwaveringly found in churches. Thus, through his connections from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Boston, he was able to send a limited amount of books to the South and hope that the change could be started.

However, other writers such as Rogers believed that the Appeal expressed “a militant form of black nationalism with its emphasis on violent resistance, ” while others viewed this as a “hierarchical and an elite based vision of leadership” (209). Rodgers was correct to connect black nationalism with the Appeal since David Walker did want slaves to express and embrace their “blackness” since slaves laid the foundations of what America became at that time or more specifically today (209). But besides the book expressing black nationalism, Rogers wanted to focus and parse on the word appeal, since the word appeal is not vernacular in people’s everyday conversation besides possibly being used in law or politics. However, Rogers did not believe Walker’s intentions for the word appeal were to be used in terms of legality or politically but wanted to “capture a way of thinking about one’s political standing that is not itself dependent on constitutional recognition” (209). Rogers believed that African Americans did not require another “savior” but needed “practices of domination, capable of responding to their grievances, and susceptible to transcending America’s narrow ethical and political horizon” (209). Roger’s notion of African-Americans not needing a savior is not entirely correct or incorrect. For example, the slave’s savior before David Walker arrived was God who they believed through faith and fidelity that God was going to save them from their oppression. When David Walker arrived and implored the slaves to make change through action, slaves took his word full-heartedly, which then created rebellions and prominent African-American abolitionists.

Thus, essentially as Walker continues from Article I to Article of the Appeal, the appeal is describing the “calling into existence a political status otherwise denied to African Americans, and how that status affirms the equality between claimant and recipient apart from legal recognition”, while Part 4 focuses on that “appealing to” is described as “resisting the subtle alignment between prophecy as a hierarchical rule and custodial black politics” (209-210).

Rogers disagreed that the audience was not only for African Americans but also for the “white Christians” since “African Americans ironically reinforced Walker’s thought that African Americans readily make judgments about their political world” (210). In addition, Rogers felt fearful that white people would be vexed, inducing an uprising against his words that challenged the conventional perception of the racial hierarchy. Rogers, just similar to Walker, believed that even though slaves have to complete the majority of the work to abolish slavery despite enduring the oppression of slavery that white Christians, who value equality and kindness, should join forces with slaves to abolish slavery than that supporting their white political officials who justified that their religion supports slavery. Thus, he wanted to “move white readers to a position of moral rectitude, [which is] a form of fiery protestation that marks a transformation in the black pamphleteering tradition” (Rogers 210). Despite this position, Rogers believed that the Appeal is a “rhetorical performance—seeking to call out and honor the demotic capacity of his black fellows, [which relies on the audience’s judgment of the [offered] content” (211-213).

In the Appeal, Walker emphasized that his goal was to abolish slavery by gathering all the slaves for rebelling for common causes such as freedom and equality. Walker was not able to accomplish this since it is an enormous task for one person to burden. However, his consistent saying of how we cannot trust the white political officials or white abolitionists was, in fact, true and that taking a step-by-step resolvent to slavery would or will lead us nowhere. Thus, telling the African-Americans to rebel together for a common cause, has shown that the slaves are not as afraid of the whites anymore. In addition, Walker also persuaded slaves to continue believing in their religion as a source of motivation for getting through the rebellion. However, in a similar term, Walker noted that slaves should believe less in horizontal politics than in vertical politics because through vertical politics that a group of people joined together and fight for a common cause while in horizontal politics that you are worshipping or maintaining your fidelity or faith towards God. Despite not making a significant change to slavery, Walker did leave an indelible mark on the road to the abolishment of slavery whether it was creating more African-American revolutions or even creating or birthing new African-American leaders to continue on his mantle.

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David Walker’s Appeal Summary. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/david-walkers-appeal-summary/
“David Walker’s Appeal Summary.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/david-walkers-appeal-summary/
David Walker’s Appeal Summary. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/david-walkers-appeal-summary/> [Accessed 16 Jul. 2024].
David Walker’s Appeal Summary [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2024 Jul 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/david-walkers-appeal-summary/
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