Thursday, April 29, 2010

Elreta Alexander and David Walker

These are the last two images - now it's time to do some color corrections and start on the countertop.

The Honorable Elreta Melton Alexander
Born in Smithfield, N.C., to a minister who forbade his children to ride segregated buses, Judge Elreta Alexander-Ralston acquired early the determination and the remarkable color blindness that distinguished her career. Though graduating from the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College with a degree in music, she knew that she was interested in law. By 1945, she had her law degree from Columbia and was practicing as a criminal defense lawyer in her home state, thus obtaining the honors of being the first black woman to graduate from the Law School and the first black female lawyer in North Carolina's history.

But being first at anything wasn't her goal; she just wanted to be a good lawyer and judge-and that she was. In 1968, she was elected district court judge for Guilford County, a position she held until 1981. After leaving the bench, she formed Alexander-Ralston, Speckhard & Speckhard.

Judge Alexander-Ralston will be best remembered for her compassion and candor on the bench. She became known as ‘Judge A' and was a pioneer in first-offender programs and in developing community service long before it became popular. She also earned a reputation as the originator of something she called ‘judgment day,' in which first-time youthful offenders would be called back to her court several weeks after their trial. If the juvenile had stayed out of trouble, the charges against him would be dismissed. One day, a white woman whose daughter had run away from home appeared in her court. The mother approached the bench and whispered, "The worst thing is that the girl's running around with colored boys," to which Judge Alexander-Ralston responded, "Darling, have you looked at your judge?"

David Walker (1785 - 1830)
A black author of an incendiary antislavery pamphlet, David was born in Wilmington to a free mother and a slave father who died before his birth. Despite his free status inherited from his mother, he grew up stifled by life in a slave society and developed a strong hatred of the institution. He left the South, stating that "If I remain in this bloody land, I will not live long. . . . I cannot remain where I must hear slaves' chains continually and where I must encounter the insults of their hypocritical enslavers." He traveled extensively around the country and by 1827 had settled in Boston, where he established a profitable secondhand clothing business. Active in helping the poor and needy, including runaway slaves, he earned a reputation within Boston's black community for his generosity and benevolence. In 1828 he married a woman known only as Emily, most likely a fugitive slave herself.

In September 1829 Walker first published his famous seventy-six-page pamphlet entitled 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. In this emotional but carefully reasoned invective, he urged slaves to rise up against their masters and free themselves, regardless of the great risk involved. "Had you rather not be killed," he asked, "than to be a slave to a tyrant, who takes the life of your mother, wife, and dear little babies?" He warned white Americans to repent, for their day of judgment was at hand. They should not be deceived by the "outwardly servile character of the Negro," he wrote, for there was "a primitive force in the black slave that, once aroused, will make him a magnificent fighter." He condemned the colonization movement as a solution, claiming that America belonged more to blacks than to whites because "we have enriched it with our blood and tears."

Two revised editions, each increasingly militant and inflammatory in tone, were published early in 1830.

The circulation of the Appeal in the South by the summer of 1830 caused great alarm, particularly in Georgia, Virginia, and North Carolina. It made its first appearance in Walker's home state in Wilmington, where copies were smuggled on ships from Boston or New York and were distributed by a slave thought to have been an agent of Walker's. Excitement among whites soon spread to Fayetteville, New Bern, Elizabeth City, and other towns in the state, particularly where news of the pamphlet was accompanied by rumors of slave insurrection plots scheduled to take place at Christmas. Many communities petitioned Governor John Owen for protection as their slaves became "almost uncontrollable."

The governor sent a copy of the Appeal to the legislature when it met in November 1830 and urged that it consider measures to avert the dangerous consequences that were predicted. Meeting in secret session, the legislature enacted the most repressive measures ever passed in North Carolina to control slaves and free blacks. Harsh penalties were to be levied on anyone for teaching slaves to read or write and for circulating seditious publications. Manumission laws were made more prohibitive, and the movements of both slaves and free blacks were severely restricted. Finally, a quarantine law called for any black entering the state by ship to be confined, and any contact between resident blacks and incoming ships was prohibited.

Walker died in Boston three months after the publication of his pamphlet's third edition. The cause of his death remains a mystery, though it was widely believed that he was poisoned, possibly as a result of large rewards offered by Southern slaveholders for his death. 

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