David Walker was a black abolitionist and publisher born in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1785. He was the son of a slave father and free mother. Since Walker’s mother was a free woman of color, he grew up free as well. Walker obtained an education and later traveled throughout the country.
He settled in Boston, where he became involved in the abolitionist movement and was a frequent contributor to Freedom’s Journal, an anti-slavery weekly publication. Walker became involved with the Massachusetts General Colored Association, an organization opposed to slavery and racism. He began to share his views in speeches throughout the state.
During the 1820s, he opened a secondhand clothing store on the Boston waterfront. Through this business, he could purchase clothes taken from sailors in exchange for a drink, and then resell them to seamen about to embark.
The pockets of the garments would be concealed with copies of his Appeal, which he reasoned would reach Southern ports and pass through the hands of other used-clothing dealers. He would also get other Black seamen to pass out pamphlets directly.
When the smuggled pamphlets began to appear in the South, the states reacted with legislation prohibiting the circulation of abolitionist literature, in addition to forbidding slaves to learn to read and write. Warned that his life was in danger, Walker refused to flee to Canada. His body was found soon afterward near his shop, and many believed he had been poisoned.
His “Appeal for a Slave Revolt” was widely reprinted after his death and accepted by a small minority of abolitionists. Most anti-slavery leaders and free blacks rejected his call for violence at the time. Walker died in 1830.