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"We Must and Shall Be Free."
David Walker Held to "Certain Truths" in His Appeal
Visitors to the north slope of Beacon Hill may notice a plaque at 81 Joy Street marking the home of black Bostonian David Walker (1796/7?-1830), but many are unaware of his radical abolitionist activities in the struggle against slavery and for racial equality. The David Walker Memorial Project-spearheaded by Community Change, Inc.-seeks to rectify this by bringing public awareness to the remarkable life and work of Walker and establishing a public memorial in Boston.
Walker was born in Wilmington, NC to a free black mother and enslaved father. Arriving in Boston in 1825, Walker opened a used clothing shop, joined the Prince Hall Masons, and assisted in the founding of the Massachusetts General Colored Association. His devout religion, combined with his experiences living within "free" and enslaved communities, helped form his argument in his 1829 published Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.
In his Appeal, Walker brilliantly exposed the hypocrisy of slavery in a self-professed egalitarian Republic, using the same natural rights rhetoric Jefferson and the founders articulated in 1776. Referring to slave owners repeatedly as tyrants, Walker furiously charged, "See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language? 'We hold these truths to be self-evident-that ALL men are created EQUAL!! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!!' Compare your own language…with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers…" And Patrick Henry's oft quoted, "Give me liberty or give me death," resounds in Walker's own declaration, "Yea, would I meet death with avidity far! far!! in preference to such servile submission to the murderous hands of tyrants."
Walker's pamphlet shook the revered foundations of America to its core, but its 'certain truths' could not be denied. Found dead in 1830 near his Boston home, Walker died most likely of tuberculosis, although the black community maintained he had been murdered. While the cause of his death remains an interpretive challenge for historians, Walker's truths ring on. For more information on Walker and other notable black Bostonians, visit the BOAF website at www.nps.gov/BOAF/.
- Alison T. Mann, Ph.D.
Last updated: December 28, 2020