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Part 3: 1791-1831
<---Part 4: 1831-1865

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Modern Voices
William Scarborough on David Walker
Resource Bank Contents

Q: What was the Southern reaction to Walker's Appeal?
William Scarborough

A: Three states -- Georgia, Louisiana, and North Carolina -- as a direct result of Walker's Appeal, passed legislation making it a crime to teach slaves -- or in fact blacks, free or slave -- from being able to read and write. Eventually, all southern states except three of the border states passed similar legislation. And the fear was that publications like Walker's Appeal would get into the hands of either free or slave blacks, and that this would produce insurrectionary activity.

Walker's Appeal was followed shortly by the Nat Turner insurrection, and by also William Lloyd Garrison's publication of The Liberator in Boston, in January of 1831. (The Turner insurrection [was] in August of 31.) Many people saw a connection between the two. And the South will now begin, after the early thirties, to limit civil liberties in a major way, limiting freedom of press, freedom of the speech, trying to ban petitions to Congress and so on, in the mid-thirties, the so called "gag rule" and so on. So you have a severe limitation of civil liberty in the South after the early thirties, as a result of the Abolition Movement.
Southerners always liked to brag, especially to their northern compatriots, that they had no fear at all of their slave population; that they slept with their doors and windows open at night, and the idea of being a victim of slave frenzy of any kind was just ludicrous to them, and they couldn't understand why northerners did not understand that.

But in fact, southerners were well aware of the possibility of slave insurrection. They were well aware of the potential for disaster, which had been illustrated on the island of Santo Domingo in the 1790's, by the successful slave uprising led by Touissant L'Ouverture. They were well aware of that. You see references to it in the private correspondence and so on, all the time.

And therefore, when an actual insurrection occurred, they just basically went mad.
William Scarborough
Professor of History
University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg

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