This is the first African American History month since the murder of George Floyd and the uprisings that followed.
Looking through the official calendar of figures to be honored each day, I did not see David Walker’s name listed. In case you haven’t heard of him, Walker was a free black man known for his dramatic 1829 “Appeal” to end slavery. His manifesto called-out not just Southern enslavers, but also Northern whites who were doing nothing to end a morally depraved labor system.
The Appeal got distributed throughout the country despite tremendous efforts by Southern planters to suppress it, including brutally punishing African Americans suspected of reading it and placing a bounty on Walker’s head. Walker did not live to see slavery defeated, but the gauntlet he threw-down inspired Frederick Douglass and other Abolitionists, changing the course of American history.
Echoes of Walker’s demands can be heard today in calls to end mass incarceration and the economic racism it fosters against black and brown communities.
This African American History month, Walker has inspired the 10,000 members of Construction and General Building Laborers’ Local 79—70% of whom are people of color—to issue our own appeal: The City must end the brokering of unfree black and brown laborers on NYC construction sites.