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Effort launched to memorialize black activist David Walker

Yawu Miller | 9/19/2012, 8:27 a.m.

Despite all of the controversy, and perhaps because of it, Walker’s Appeal was influential among white abolitionists. While many in the abolitionist movement believed blacks to be inherently inferior to whites and preached segregation of the races, Walker was unequivocal in his contention that blacks should have equal standing to whites in U.S. society.

And he was the first person, African American or otherwise, to articulate those views in writing.

“What Walker represents is radical ideas about liberation and participation in society coming from the black community,” Rushing said.

Abolitionist publisher William Lloyd Garrison was thought to be influenced by Walker to turn his back on the recolonization schemes pushed by the American Colonization Society and others.

At the height of his fame, the state of Georgia placed a $10,000 bounty on Walker’s head – an immense sum at the time.

“He was a badass,” Williams says. “That’s partly why his history was erased. Even though we read him now and we see all the Christian caveats in there, he still was a badass.”

Walker was born in 1796 in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina to an enslaved father and free mother. He arrived in Boston in the 1820s, married and became active among the 2,000 or so blacks who lived mostly in the Beacon Hill section of the city.

Although Walker died in 1830 of what historians believe was tuberculosis, his fervent calls for black liberation are thought to have influenced everything from Nat Turner’s 1831 slave revolt to the stridency of the Black Power Movement of the 1960s.

His son, Edwin Garrison Walker, became one of the first two blacks to serve in the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1866. The young Walker was active in the city’s fledgling Civil Rights movement, which scored an important victory with school segregation outlawed by the Legislature in 1855.

Contemporary Civil Rights activist Horace Seldon, who has been working with Williams on the David Walker project, says he has read The Appeal as many as 15 times.

“Every time I read it, I come away feeling I read one of the most amazing documents,” he comments. “When you read his appeal, it’s astounding what he knew. It’s really simply amazing how he learned all he learned about religion, philosophy, politics and history.”

Ultimately, Seldon says, the David Walker Memorial Project organizers want a proper memorial for Walker, who was buried in an unmarked grave in what is now South Boston.