This State Punished Black People With Death For Reading This

David Walker's Appeal Cover
Briona Lamback
October 29, 2021

David Walker was an abolitionist determined to help set his people free. He did whatever it took to liberate Black folks, including sharing his anti-slavery pamphlet, “The Appeal,” widely. On November 15, 1830, North Carolina passed two laws to limit Walker's influence. What made them so afraid?

Our collective power! Walker was calling for unity, rebellion against enslavers, and demanding immediate emancipation of our people. North Carolina didn’t want any of that – so they enacted strict legislation to stop the spread of liberationist ideas.

They called it “An Act to Prevent the Circulation of Seditious Publications.” The first law banned any publication with the tendency to inspire revolution among Black people. Any Black person found with Walker’s pamphlet, enslaved or free, was whipped and could be imprisoned for up to one year. 

The punishment for getting caught again? Death.

They then put out a second law forbidding anyone from teaching enslaved people to read and write. Black people who taught literacy got lashings as punishment. And this history tells us something important.

Our liberation is so threatening to white supremacy that white people kill to prevent it! Still, Walker’s pamphlet lit a fire under the abolitionist movement, paving the way for later rebellions like Nat Turner’s in Virginia. When we’re united, they can’t stop our revolution.

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