Abolition

David Walker

(b. Sept. 28, 1785, Wilmington, N.C., U.S.–d. June 28, 1830, Boston, Mass.), black American Abolitionist whose pamphlet Appeal . . . to the Colored Citizens of the World . . . (1829), urging slaves to fight for their freedom, was one of the most radical documents of the antislavery movement.

Born of a slave father and a free mother, Walker grew up free, obtained an education, and traveled throughout the country. Settling in Boston, he became involved in the Abolitionist movement (see abolitionism) and was a frequent contributor to Freedom’s Journal, an anti-slavery weekly. Sometime in the 1820s he opened a secondhand clothing store on the Boston waterfront. Through this business he could purchase clothes taken from sailors in barter for drink, and then resell them to seamen about to embark. In the copious pockets of these garments, he concealed copies of his Appeal, which he reasoned would reach Southern ports and pass through the hands of other used-clothes dealers who would know what to do with them. He also used sympathetic black seamen to distribute pamphlets directly.

When the smuggled pamphlets began to appear in the South, the states reacted with legislation prohibiting circulation of Abolitionist literature and 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, widely reprinted after his death, was accepted by a small minority of Abolitionists, but most antislavery leaders and free blacks rejected his call for violence at the time.

His only son, Edwin G. Walker, was elected to the Massachusetts legislature in 1866.

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano
aka Gustavus Vassa

Captured far from the African coast when he was a boy of 11, Olaudah Equiano was sold into slavery, later acquired his freedom, and, in 1789, wrote his widely-read autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.

The youngest son of a village leader, Equiano was born among the Ibo people in the kingdom of Benin, along the Niger River. He was “the greatest favourite with [his] mother.” His family expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a chief, an elder, a judge. Slavery was an intregal part of the Ibo culture, as it was with many other African peoples. His family owned slaves, but there was also a continual threat of being abducted, of becoming someone else’s slave. This is what happened, one day, while Equiano and his sister were at home alone.  Continue reading

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey

Marcus Garvey (August 17, 1887 – June 10, 1940) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) form a critical link in black America’s centuries-long struggle for freedom, justice, and equality. As the leader of the largest organized mass movement in black history and progenitor of the modern “black is beautiful” ideal, Garvey is now best remembered as a champion of the back-to-Africa movement. In his own time he was hailed as a redeemer, a “Black Moses.” Though he failed to realize all his objectives, his movement still represents a liberation from the psychological bondage of racial inferiority. Continue reading

Anna Maria Weems

Maria Weems escaping in male attire.

Weems escaping in male attire

According to Underground Rail Road records, Anna Maria Weems disguised her gender and used several male aliases in order to escape her plight and acquire freedom. At the time of her escape, she was a “bright mulatto, well-grown, smart and good-looking” fifteen year old girl. Her family members, including her mother, have been sold before she turned thirteen. Because her owners feared that she would escape, they made her sleep in their chamber in order to prevent her from doing so. Finally she had the means to escape with the help of the Underground Railroad. William Still describes her escape in “The Underground Railroad” (1870):  Continue reading

John Brown

John Brown

John Brown

John Brown was a man of action — a man who would not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery. On October 16, 1859, he led 21 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan to arm slaves with the weapons he and his men seized from the arsenal was thwarted, however, 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.

John Brown was born into a deeply religious family in Torrington, Connecticut, in 1800. Led by a father who was vehemently opposed to slavery, the family moved to northern Ohio when John was five, to a district that would become known for its antislavery views.  Continue reading

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