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Essays

Publications by African American North Carolinians in the years preceding the Civil War stressed the urgency of ending slavery and helped build support for the abolition movement. Black men and women's struggles did not end with emancipation, however. After the war, African Americans continued to write, demanding equal treatment and full integration into American life. Some authors wrote about racial uplift, an ideology that was discussed during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

David Walker. Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles : Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly to Those of the United States of America. Boston: D. Walker, 1830.

As a free Black in Wilmington and Charleston, South Carolina, David Walker (1785-1830) witnessed the cruel and oppressive conditions of slavery and racial discrimination firsthand. In 1825 he settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where he became involved in abolition work and made a living as a dealer in second-hand clothing. In 1827 Walker published an anti-slavery pamphlet, Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles, and created underground networks to distribute it throughout the South. The Appeal uses passages from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence to argue against the evils and hypocrisy of slavery, and urges African Americans to use any means to resist it.

Southern states responded to the pamphlet with alarm. North Carolina passed legislation that forbade teaching slaves to read and limited the rights of free blacks. Walker died in Boston three months after the publication of his pamphlet's third edition. The cause of his death was officially recorded as tuberculosis, but it was widely believed that he was poisoned, possibly as a result of large rewards offered by Southern slaveholders for his death.

Walker's Appeal at Documenting the American South.


Bruce Cotten
North Carolina Collection

Anna J. Cooper. A Voice from the South. Xenia, Ohio: Aldine Print House, 1892.

Anna Julia Haywood (1858-1964) was born into slavery in Raleigh in 1858. In 1867 she attended classes at St. Augustine’s Normal School there. Haywood married theology professor George Cooper in 1877, but after his death in 1879 she left North Carolina to pursue a degree at Oberlin College. Decades later Cooper earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree, making her the fourth woman in the United States to earn this distinction. Cooper spent most of her career at the M Street School, a high school for African Americans in Washington, D.C., where she taught and served as principal.

An activist and a public speaker, Cooper was a leading voice of her generation. In her critically acclaimed book A Voice from the South, she addresses a variety of issues including gender and racial equality and the important role of Black women and education in contributing to progress for her race. Some of her views were considered radical, and she is acknowledged as one of the early founders of Black feminist thought.

A Voice at Documenting the American South.


North Carolina Collection

N.D. White. Torch-Lights and Stepping Stones: From Slavery to Self-Government. Goldsboro: N.D. White, 1920.

Nireus Deleon White (1877-?), a native of Sampson County, was an educated and ambitious man who studied the classics and race history. He was working as an optometrist and lawyer when he wrote this volume of essays and poems. White proposes that the only way for African Americans to escape racism, segregation, and violence is emigration to Mexico, South America, or Liberia, where they will enjoy the rights and privileges of full citizens. The book also contains White’s poems about the bravery of African American soldiers in WWI, Union victories over the Confederate Army during the Civil War, women’s rights, prominent Black leaders, and love.


Bruce Cotten Collection
North Carolina Collection