By FrKurt Messick
David Walker was born in the late 1700s, in the newly-formed nation of the United States, shortly after ratification of the Constitution, into a society which on the one hand was celebrating a victory for freedom from oppression, but which also was still oppressive of a significant number of its own people.
Walker grew impatient with the pace and tone of the Abolitionist movement, of which he was a part, beginning in New England. Slave rebellions such as that of Denmark Vesey seemed to be an answer to the slowness. Injustice was being committed at this very moment -- action was therefore required immediately. This was the tone with which Walker's 'Appeal' was infused. His message was rather shocking to white Americans, and Walker found ways to reach his own people in the South with this message. Vesey and others had used religious meetings as a means of gathering and organising; likewise, they found the Bible rich in material to support their cause. Walker did likewise, seizing upon biblical ideas of deliverance and justice.
Walker found himself becoming unpopular for his outspoken views. Many in the Abolitionist movement purposefully discouraged talk of rebellion, lawbreaking and violence. However, Walker was not convinced that this kind of change was the best in the situation -- he felt strongly that the Black people had to unite and fight, with the full support of God.
Walker further was mistrustful of white people's effort on the behalf of blacks, and doubtful that Southern white men would ever be willing to give up their position of power. Walker noted that even men like Jefferson believed in the racial idea of white superiority. Even in those placed where African-Americans would live as 'free' persons, they seemed forever destined to be in the eyes of the white majority second-class citizens. This to Walker clearly was not right. 'Are we men!! - I ask you, O my brethren! are we men? Did our Creator make us to be slaves to dust and ashes like ourselves?'
Walker began to view whites as the only Americans. He felt the sins of racism and slavery were so intrinsically American that it would be a contradiction for any black person to be an American. This racist sin permeated even through to the churches, which Walker held in contempt for their seeming complacency in the face of on-going injustice.
And yet, one of the key elements throughout Walker's 'Appeal', for all its radical viewpoints, which no other Abolitionists seemed to have picked up after Walker's death in 1830, is hope. 'I verily believe that God has something in reserve for us, which, when he shall have poured it out upon us, will repay us for all our suffering and miseries.' Walker had no qualms about allowing that he wanted to destroy the status quo in society; however, he was not an advocate of wanton violence and bloodshed. He said that is was incorrect to assume that he was asking for civil war of any kind, but that he was simply asking for basic human rights to be enforced for all people.
This calls for rights and justice, the very basic call to recognise the humanity in all people, is a primary element of Walker's 'Appeal'. The time to rise up and take back humanity which had been stripped away by the white slave traders was, to Walker, clearly at hand.
Like the biblical prophets, Walker understood that what he was doing was dangerous. However, Walker saw his writing as a call from God, a call that could not be put away. The call to justice, the call to right the wrongs in society, the call to action against an evil oppressor, are reminiscent of the Hebrew prophets.
Although Walker's call and prophecy never took the shape he himself might have imagined it, his words inspired many and discomfited more. Some forms of injustice take many voices, many martyrs, before they are addressed. Walker was one of these.