Chapter 6: Resisting Slavery

David Walker was born a freeman in Wilmington, North Carolina.  He eventually settled in Boston and began to speak out and write against slavery and racism.  His 76-page Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World greatly alarmed the South.  A bounty was put on his head shortly after it was published.  Many Northern abolitionists also had mixed feelings about its call for revolution against slavery and slave-owners. 

Here are some excerpts:

“They think because they hold us in their infernal chains of slavery, that we wish to be white, or of their color – but they are dreadfully deceived – we wish to be just as it pleased our Creator to have made us, and no avaricious and unmerciful wretches have any business to make slaves of, or hold us in slavery… If you commence, make sure work- do not trifle, for they will not trifle with – they want us for their slaves, and think nothing of murdering us in order to subject use to that wretched condition - therefore, if there is an attempt made on us, kill or be killed … Believe this, that it is no more harm for you to kill a man, who is trying to kill you, then it is for you to take drink of water when thirsty…

“Wo, Wo, will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting. Throw away your fears and prejudices then, and enlighten us and treat us like men, and we will like you more than we do now hate you, and tell us no more about colonization, for America is as much our country, as it is yours.  Treat us like men, and there is no danger but we will all live in peace and happiness together.  For we are not like you, hard hearted, unmerciful, and unforgiving. What a happy country this will be, if the whites will listen… Treat us then like men, and we will be your friends. And there is not a doubt in my mind, but that the whole of the past will be sunk into oblivion, and we yet, under God, will become a united and happy people. The whites may say it is impossible, but remember that nothing is impossible with God.” - David Walker, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829)

Activity 1:
You are the editor of a newspaper in Boston, Massachusetts or Atlanta, Georgia. Write an editorial either supporting or opposing Walker's Appeal

To find out more about David Walker and his Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World:

Activity 2:

This activity is designed to get students to think what life in school could be like today if the Bill of Rights were just a piece of paper. 

Pick one or more of the following activities to act out in class:


      1.  Upon your arrival, announce that because of the war in Iraq and the need to support the troops and pray for their safety, next week all classes will begin with a prayer session.  The school principal is now selecting prayers that will be appropriate in a classroom settting.  Each day a separate student will be picked to read the prayers chosen by the principal.  

      Notice if any students appear uncomfortable.  Do students realize that this is a violation of the separation of Church and State?  Discuss the 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale (see cases).

      2.  Announce that due to the "war on terror" schools across the country are being asked to do more to instill patriotism in students.  So from now on, class will begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and every student must participate. 

 See if any students object.  Do any of them know it is their right to refuse to participate?  Explain the decision in the 1943 Supreme Court case Barnette v. W.Va. Board of Education


       1.  At the start of the class, tell the students that you have just received an important bulletin from the principal's office.  Due to recent reports of widespread drug use in the student body, the school is going to conduct drug-testing of all students.  Tell them that recent improvements in technology mean that drug-testing no longer requires the submission of a urine sample.  Pass out envelopes to the students.  Tell them to pull out a strand of their hair and place it in the envelope.  Ask them to seal it, and write their name and address on the front.  Tell them the envelope will be sent to the lab for analysis, and results will be mailed to their parents and the school.  

Do any students refuse?  Do they understand that this is an illegal search?  Explain the Supreme Court decisions in Vernonia v. Acton (1995) and Pottawatomie Board of Education v. Earls (2002), which permit random drug-testing as a requirement for voluntary participation in after-school sports and other extracurricular activities.  Tell them that these rulings, however, do not apply to students during the school day.  Because their presence in school is not voluntary, courts have been more protective of students' Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. 

      2.  Tell your class that that because some students have recently been caught with illegal substances, school officials are calling for random searches.  Beginning next week, on a random day that you cannot reveal, you are going to randomly select a student and send him or her to the office for a full strip search.  This policy will remain in force throughout the term, and then it will be re-evaluated to see if it should be made permanent.

Notice the reactions among the students.  Are they surprised?  Angry?  Upset?  Confused?  Indifferent?  Or do they think it is a good idea to have these kinds of searches in order to make sure the school is a safe place?  Explain the 1985 US Supreme Court decision of New Jersey v. TLO.    Although a student can be searched without a warrant, there must be reasonable suspicion to suspect that particular student of wrongdoing.  The search must be conducted in a reasonable way based on the student's age and the nature of the item being sought.   

Copyright 2006, ACLU of Massachusetts