Black Protest Texts

Black protest texts call out and talk back to the barbaric forces such as racial injustices, police brutality, and systematic racism meted on the people of color. They raise consciousness, expose grim truths, and celebrate Black identity, joy, and liberation. Some texts insist, as Frederick Douglass writes, “for black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, not religion” (p.9). Others attempt to conciliate, as David Walker hints by saying that “…I do not think that we were natural enemies to each other” (p.31). Primarily, these protest texts are committed to amplifying Black experiences and voices and proactively addressing the issue of racial discrimination in the country.

David Walker’s appeal is perhaps one of the most radical anti-slavery texts that caused a great stir when they were published. In the Four articles, together with the preamble, he is calling for his beloved Brethren and Fellow Citizens to revolt against their oppressors. David Walker, son of an enslaved man and a free Black woman, aimed to instill courage among the enslaved African Americans. Like Ida B. Wells, Walker stood up for what he believed was true and right even though he knew it could cost his life or be held up to the public as an ignorant, impudent and restless disturber of the public peace” (p.25).

Though he seems to be waiting for God’s vengeance upon the whites for causing profound ‘wretchedness’ among the blacks, his appeal is a call for direction action –rebellion. He argues that since the whites are not willing to liberate the African Americans, then they should seek their emancipation using any tactics, including violence. Walker’s constant invocation of God and the Christian Bible provided hope and solace to the enslaved and reminded them that they needed to take action to win the war against the tyrants. To him, “God is a God of justice to His creatures” and does not permit our oppressors to “keep us our fathers, our mothers, ourselves and our children in eternal ignorance and wretchedness” (p.27). He wants the enslaved to take a legitimized action and control of their lives freely, undisturbed by the supremacists.

In his speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Frederick Douglass sought to change perceptions concerning the capabilities and intelligence of the Blacks.  During his era, white Americans believed that African Americans were less than fully human and inferior. As a result, Douglas attempted to erase these perceptions through an awe-inspiring show of liberal knowledge. During a holiday celebrating freedom (4th of July), Douglas urged the audience to think about the continuing oppression of the Black people. He said, “Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future” (p.5).

Throughout his speech, Douglas repeatedly used the words “your” and “you” to emphasize the difference he had with the audience. He wanted them to understand that he does not share their attitudes or opinions concerning the 4th of July. To the listeners, the U.S. was living up to the ideals contained in document, Declaration of Independence. However, to Douglas the celebrations were a reminder of the country’s hypocrisy on the issue of freedom since racism was still paramount. Just like today, the issue of racism was still persisting and a lot of work still needed to be done so that every citizen can enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (p.12). Above the celebrations that characterize the holiday, is the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the Jubilee shouts that reach them” (p.4).