MLA 2018

Nodes of Literacy: David Walker and Intertextuality

Chair: J. Laurence Cohen

“Maryland Maps of Frederick Douglass’s Literacy Experience,” Lawrence P. Jackson

This paper presents three digital maps of Baltimore’s Fells Point and Maryland’s Eastern Shore to highlight Frederick Douglass’s opportunities to engage print material culture in the 1830s. One map shows Douglass in Talbot County, near St. Michaels in 1835, and the others show him in Baltimore in 1833 and again in 1838. Emphasizing nodes of literacy available to Douglass as the inhabitant of important seaboard circuits of transatlantic enslavement/anti-enslavement discourse, the maps pinpoint his location in detail and marry his historical position in time to new archival evidence, especially abolitionist pamphlets, David Walker’s Appeal, the letters of Daniel Lloyd, Lundy’s The Genius of Universal Emancipation, and the literary societies created by the Bethel Church and the Sharp Street Methodist Church.

 “Ghost Authorizer: David Walker in Henry Highland Garnet’s 1848 Volume,” Lori Leavell

After his own “Address to the Slaves” had been rejected by the national colored convention twice, Garnet sought publication apart from the convention’s Minutes and Proceedings. Rather than publishing the address alone, Garnet combined it with the second edition of David Walker’s Appeal (1829) along with three additional prefatory documents penned by Garnet in a book titled Walker’s Appeal, With a Brief Sketch of His Life. By Henry Highland Garnet. And Also Garnet’s Address to the Slaves of the United States of America (1848). This paper focuses on the materiality of Garnet’s 1848 volume to argue for its significance not only in the recirculation history of Walker’s pamphlet but also as a shaping influence on future interpretations of Walker. Printing their texts together would lend Garnet the cachet of Walker (who had died in 1831), while his use of paratextual spaces allowed him to call on Walker for conflicting ends: the volume presents Walker as the already-established black leader who authorizes Garnet’s address, even as Garnet’s book participates in the act of recovering Walker.

Garnet’s work as a compiler also allows the two men to emerge as political theorists in dialogue. Specifically, careful deployment of paratextual spaces allows Garnet to present himself as an inheritor of Walker’s radical political vision. In a racial reversal of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s trope of the talking book, Garnet’s role as compiler allows him to foreground the two men as African American readers uniquely able to comprehend the Bible and the nation’s founding documents in contrast to white Americans who have proven unable to understand them. A focus on the materiality of Garnet’s volume affords fuller understanding of the survival and malleability of antebellum black militant print.

“That ‘tremendous indictment of slavery’: W.E.B. Du Bois’s Reading of David Walker’s Appeal,” J. Laurence Cohen

This paper will explore the implications of Du Bois’s marginalia in his copy of Walker’s Appeal and his references to Walker across his corpus. Du Bois refers to and quotes Walker—sometimes at considerable length—at least seven times from 1903 until his death and he marked more than twenty passages in his copy of the Appeal with lines in the margins. Although Sterling Stuckey’s Slave Culture (1987) situates Du Bois in a black nationalist tradition which includes David Walker, scholarship has not fully explored Du Bois’s interest in Walker. Edward J. Blum’s W.E.B. Du Bois: American Prophet (2007) includes Walker in tracing a genealogy of Du Bois’s image of a black Christ, while Jonathon Kahn’s Divine Discontent: The Religious Imagination of W.E.B. Du Bois (2009) situates The Souls of Black Folk and Darkwater in the tradition of the African American jeremiad, exemplified by David Walker. Cohen argues that Du Bois’s engagement with Walker’s Appeal provided him with a model of prophetic vocation, contributed to his understanding of manhood, and influenced his concept of double consciousness.

Respondent: Kevin Pelletier