(Source: Press release, Emory News Center, Tuesday, March 7, 2016)
A rare first edition of David Walker’s 19th century anti-slavery book, “Appeal,” owned and signed by W.E.B. Du Bois, has been obtained by Emory University’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, with a generous grant from the B.H. Breslauer Foundation and additional support from other individuals.
Written and published in 1829 in Boston by Walker, a self-educated African American merchant, “Appeal” is considered one of the most important documents in African American history. Its full title is “Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with A Preamble to the Colored Citizens of the World, But in Particular, and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America.”
Only half a dozen copies of early editions of “Appeal” are known to exist, and only two known first editions can be found in libraries, according to the Rose Library’s curator of research Randall Burkett.
The first edition at Emory is stamped with Du Bois’ ownership signature on the title page, and his holograph signature is on the front fly. The book also contains Du Bois’ extensive marginal markings.
“One of the most compelling aspects of this work is that it addresses some of the questions that continue to challenge us today,” says Rosemary Magee, director of the Rose Library.
Kevin Young, curator of literary collections and of the Rose Library’s Danowski Poetry Library, echoed that sentiment in a comment to The New York Times. “The book is testament to a line of black protest and prophecy that stretches from Walker to Du Bois to #blacklivesmatter,” he said. “Seeing it and the markings it’s almost as if Du Bois’s lines in the text make that literal.”
In his autobiography, “Dusk of Dawn,” Du Bois called Walker’s “Appeal” “that tremendous indictment of slavery,” recognizing its importance as the first “program of organized opposition to the action and attitude of the dominant white group.”
According to the late American historian Herbert Aptheker, “Walker’s ‘Appeal’ is the first sustained written assault upon slavery and racism to come from a black man in the United States.” The publication was considered so radical and revolutionary in its call to arms that even abolitionists condemned it as inflammatory.
“The book itself is a landmark of political protest and eloquent articulation of the demand for freedom for people of African descent in the United States,” says Pellom McDaniels III, curator of African American Collections in the Rose Library. “It is as important for African American political and social history as Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’; it is a demand for freedom and a call to arms.”
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