Tag Archives: David Walker

John Brown: The Man Who Killed Slavery

982_160I have long wanted to write a piece about the abolitionist, John Brown, because he was a man of action and a man who would not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery. He was more significant in eradicating slavery than any single individual at the time. As you know, history has not been kind to his legacy and therefore, anything reported about Brown is in no way told in a positive light. He is projected as a wild crazy white man that lost his mind, but that was not the case at all.

They talked about the end of his life as a traitor for wanting to end slavery. So on October 16, 1859; he led 21 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan was to arm slaves with the weapons he and his men seized from the arsenal that was thwarted by local farmers, militiamen, and Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Within 36 hours of the attack, most of Brown’s men had been killed or captured.

Brown stood trial and was found guilty of treason. On December 2, 1859, he was hung in Charlestown, WV. As Brown approached the hanging scaffold, he stated: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with Blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”

John Brown was born into a deeply religious family in Torrington, Connecticut, in 1800. During his first fifty years, Brown moved about the country, settling in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York, and taking along his ever-growing family. He would father twenty children. It is important to note that several of his sons were killed during the raid at Harpers Ferry.

He helped finance the publication of David Walker’s Appeal and Henry Highland’s “Call to Rebellion” speech. He gave land to fugitive slaves. He and his wife agreed to raise a black youth as one of their own. He also participated in the Underground Railroad and, in 1851, helped establish the League of Gileadites, an organization that worked to protect escaped slaves from slave catchers.

In 1847, Frederick Douglass met Brown for the first time in Springfield, Massachusetts. Of the meeting, Douglass stated that “Though a white gentleman, [Brown] is in sympathy a black man, and as deeply interested in our cause, as though his own soul had been pierced with the iron of slavery.” It was at this meeting that Brown first outlined his plan to Douglass to lead a war to free slaves.

Despite his contributions to the antislavery cause, Brown did not emerge as a figure of major significance until 1855 after he followed five of his sons to the Kansas territory. There, he became the leader of antislavery guerillas and fought a proslavery attack against the antislavery town of Lawrence. The following year, in retribution for another attack, Brown went to a proslavery town and brutally killed five of its settlers. Brown and his sons would continue to fight in the territory of Missouri for the rest of the year.

Brown returned to the east and began to think more seriously about his plan for a war in Virginia against slavery. He sought money to fund an “army” he would lead. On October 16, 1859, he set his plan into action when he and 21 other men, 5 blacks and 16 whites, raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown was wounded and quickly captured, and moved to Charlestown, Virginia, where he was tried and convicted of treason, Before hearing his sentence, Brown was allowed make an address to the court.

. . . I believe to have interfered as I have done, . . . in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it be deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done.”

Although initially shocked by Brown’s exploits, many Northerners began to speak favorably of the militant abolitionist. “No man in America has ever stood up so persistently and effectively for the dignity of human nature. . . .” Henry David Thoreau said in an address to the citizens of Concord, Massachusetts.

North and South drew even farther apart from each other. John Brown and his Harpers Ferry raid are often referred to as the match that lit the fuse on the powder keg of secession and civil war. Even today, debate continues as to how Brown should be remembered: as a martyr to freedom, as a well-intended but misguided individual, or as a terrorist who hoped for revolution and, perhaps, murder on a grand scale. I say he did more for the cause to end slavery than any other living soul of the time and therefore, a martyr! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

David Walker’s Appeal

download (2)David Walker was the Malcolm X of his day and for obvious reasons, we never hear about him. He was born September 28, 1796, and died August 6, 1830, an outspoken and unapologetic African-American abolitionist and anti-slavery activist. His mother was free, and his father was a slave, which made him a free man. In 1829, while living in Boston, Massachusetts, he published An Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World, a call for black unity and self-help in the fight against oppression and injustice.

The appeal brought attention to the abuses and inequities of slavery and the role of individuals to act responsibly for racial equality, according to religious and political tenets. At the time, some people were outraged and fearful of the reaction that the pamphlet would have. Many abolitionists thought the views were extreme.

Historians and liberation theologians cite the Appeal as an influential political and social document of the 19th century. Walker exerted a radicalizing influence on the abolitionist movements of his day and inspired future black leaders and activists.

In September 1829, Walker published his appeal to Black people entitled Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Colored Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829. The purpose of the document was to encourage readers to take an active role in fighting their oppression, regardless of the risk, and to press white Americans to realize the moral and religious failure of slavery.

David Walker has often been regarded as an abolitionist with Black Nationalist views, in large measure because Walker envisioned a future for black Americans that included self-rule. As he wrote in the Appeal, “Our sufferings will come to an end, in spite of all the Americans this side of eternity. Then we will want all the learning and talents, and perhaps more, to govern ourselves.”

Scholars, such as historian Sterling Stuckey, have remarked upon the connection between Walker’s Appeal and black nationalism. In his 1972 study of The Ideological Origins of Black Nationalism, Stuckey suggested that Walker’s Appeal” would become an ideological foundation… for Black Nationalist theory.” There are, of course, some historians have said that Stuckey overstated the extent to which Walker contributed to the creation of a black nation. Thabiti Asukile, in a 1999 article on “The All-Embracing Black Nationalist Theories of David Walker’s Appeal”, defended Stuckey’s interpretation. Asukile writes:

Though scholars may continue to debate this, it would seem hard to disprove that the later advocates of black nationalism in America, who advocated a separate nation-state based on geographical boundaries during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, would not have been able to trace certain ideological concepts to Walker’s writings. Stuckey’s interpretation of the Appeal as a theoretical black nationalist document is a polemical crux for some scholars who aver that David Walker desired to live in a multicultural America.

Those who share this view must consider that Stuckey does not limit his discourse on the Appeal to a black nationalism narrowly defined, but rather to a range of sentiments and concerns. Stuckey’s concept of a black nationalist theory rooted in African slave folklore in America is an original and pioneering one, and his intellectual insights are valuable to a progressive rewriting of African-American history and culture.

This country is as much ours as it is the whites, whether they will admit it now or not, they will see and believe it by and by.  Walker, Article IV. The spirit of Walker lives on. Henry Highland Garnet, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, some liberation theologians and many others have respectfully followed in David Walker’s footsteps. Echoes of Walker’s Appeal can be heard vividly, for example, in Frederick Douglass’ famous 1852 speech, “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro.”

Historian Herbert Aptheker has noted that

“Walker’s Appeal is the first sustained written assault upon slavery and racism to come from a black man in the United States. This was the main source of its overwhelming power in its own time; this is the source of the great relevance and enormous impact that remain in it, deep as we are in the twentieth century.

Walker does this not as one who hates the country but rather as one who hates the institutions which disfigure it and make it a hissing in the world. Never before or since was there a more passionate denunciation of the hypocrisy of the nation as a whole. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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