It's Black History Month and again one man is not mentioned. We always hear about Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass and many other influence African Americans and rightfully so. But every year there is one name that is never mentioned and I have no idea why. He was at the start of the American Revolution and in fact was the first man killed in the Revolution. The name Crispus Attucks may not be familiar to most outside the city of Boston, but he is a familiar character in the story of America and should be honored during Black History Month as all the other great African Americans in our history are.
On the evening of March 5, 1770 Crispus Attucks would become cemented in History as the first man killed in the American Revolution. But before we get to that, who was Crispus Attucks? Not much is known about Crispus but what is known is pretty interesting. Born in Framingham, Massachusetts on oddly enough, March 5, 1723. His father, a slave, was Prince Yonger. His mother was Nancy Attucks, a Natick Indian and descendant of John Attuck who was hung during King Philip's War back in 1670s, but that is another story for another blog. Attucks had a desire for freedom, so at the age of 27 he ran away from his owner, William Brown in 1750. Looking to make an escape Attucks turned to the sea and worked on several different ships. Mainly working on whaling ships, Attucks spent the remainder of his life sailing from port to port and ship to ship until March of 1770, when he found himself in Boston, awaiting the next ship to leave.
Now we all know the story of the Boston Massacre. The British presence in the city was growing more and more unwanted. The Stamp Act and Townshend Acts were really pissing off the Bostonians and that radical group called the Sons of Liberty were stirring the pot and whipping the city into a frenzy. With the Sons of Liberty doing their thing and the British being, well just being British it was only a matter of time before the city would see everything boil over. That boiling point came on that cold March night in 1770. The lobster backs were the main target that night, specifically members of the 29th Regiment of Foot. It all started with some innocent snowball throwing and name calling. But then there was that one guy, who is always at these kind of things and forces things to escalate, and who started throwing chunks of ice at the Redcoats. Now, the Redcoats were agitated and the growing crowd jeered and the situation continued to get worse. By this time a group of men, including Attucks, armed with clubs and other weapons made their way to the Old State House. Now this is where things get spotty. Some say Attucks himself struck a solider, while others say he was just in the crowd. It was at this point that the freedom and liberty hating British troops opened fire on the crowd and hit five Americans. The first to be hit was Crispus, shot twice in the chest and died within minutes. That night, March 5, 1770 saw the first to fall in America's fight for Independence. A no name, runaway slave, shot twice and left to die on a street in Boston, would be the first casualty of the American Revolution. But why is Crispus not celebrated today? Not just during Black History Month, but during any talk of American History.
When talking about African Americans in American History, especially those who lived prior to the 20th century and even those who lived in the 20th century, it is impossible not to talk about good old fashion American racism. Even in the immediate wake of the Boston Massacre, a racist attitude could be seen. When John Adams was defending the British soldiers he referred to the group, including Atttucks, as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negros and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs," I don't know about you but personally I think John Adams is kind of a jerk, so I don't put much value into anything he says but this line shows how even then Attucks was viewed, just a nameless person only to be described as racial term. Even depictions of the event are bias towards Attucks, as some show him, while others conveniently leave him out. From 1770 until the 1850 Attucks was an urban legend of sorts. Nothing celebrating him, nothing honoring his sacrifice, he's got nada, niente, nicht, zero. That is until 1858. It was then that "Crispus Attucks Day" was established by Boston abolitionists. Throughout History, Crispus has made momentary emergences. In 1888, a monument was dedicated to the victims of the Boston Massacre, in 1964 Martin Luther King Jr. referenced him in a speech, in 1976 Stevie Wonder mentioned him in his song "Black Man," in 1998 the U.S. Treasury released the "The Black Revolutionary War Patriots Civil Dollar" which had Attucks on the reverse side, in 2002 he was added to the 100 Greatest African Americans and he has several places that bear his name today, from schools to roads & parks to associations. I think James Neyland best sums up Crispus Attucks best and the reason why we need to remember him as "the first defy, the first to die;"
He is one of the most important figures in African-American history, not for what he did for his own race but for what he did for all oppressed people everywhere. He is a reminder that the African-American heritage is not only African but American and it is a heritage that begins with the beginning of America.