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David Walker

By the time Abdul Rahman arrived in Boston, his hopes of freeing his children were beginning to fade. Public interest in his story had begun to wane, and as word of his travels reached the South, it became clear that the prince was making just as many enemies as friends. In Boston, however, the city's black population gave Abdul Rahman a hero's welcome. At the extravagant banquet held in his honor at the city's African Masonic Hall, one of the marshals was the passionate activist, David Walker. A string of toasts, many led by Walker, were made in honor of Abdul Rahman during an evening that must have bolstered the prince's spirits as he prepared himself to make the long journey home without the freedom of his children having been achieved.

Though he was a simple owner of a clothing store, David Walker became one of the most inflammatory and controversial abolitionists in U.S. history. Within months of Abdul Rahman's visit to Boston, Walker published Walker's Appeal, a pamphlet in which he argued for the emancipation of the slaves and condoned violence as a way of achieving that goal. In the Appeal, Walker argues that the situation of enslaved people in the United States is more "wretched" than that of other forms of slavery, and that God is on the side of justice.

"Remember Americans, that we must and shall be free and enlightened as you are, will you wait until we shall, under God, obtain our liberty by the crushing arm of power? Will it not be dreadful for you? I speak Americans for your good. We must and shall be free I say, in spite of you. You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery, to enrich you and your children; but God will deliver us from under you. And wo, wo, will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting."

The pamphlet spread throughout the country like wildfire, and caused debate and controversy wherever it was read. Cities in the South were terrified by the Appeal and tried to suppress its circulation. Many free blacks in the South were arrested for even owning the pamphlet, and plantation owners offered a $3,000 reward to anyone who would kill its author. In 1830, Walker was mysteriously found dead outside his home; city officials claimed that Walker died of tuberculosis, but the cause of his death remains a topic of debate to this day. By then, Prince Abdul Rahman was also gone, having returned to Africa only to die shortly before reaching his home and reclaiming the destiny denied him for the better part of his life.

Click below to listen to an excerpt from Walker's appeal:

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To read Walker's Appeal in its entirety, click here

For further information:

Peter Hinks, To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996).

David Walker, David Walker's Appeal: To the Coloured Citizens of the World (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000).