Crispus Attucks and Independence: Expanding our Traditional Curriculum

Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Originally published July 5, 2020 (With new revisions from 2022).

Much of school curriculum in the US has focused on Western civilization and the contributions that people of European decent made in history. Further, it is both implicitly and explicitly implied in school curriculum that the most important social studies and history is centered on European life, history and culture. As a result, the history and culture of non-western groups is de-emphasized and even omitted in many text books and school curricula. That is, the important role that Native Americans, Hispanics, Asians , African America and other minorities, is downplayed or not even discussed at all. In light of this, I want to make efforts to share history in a more balanced way as a social studies educator.

During the Fourth of July season, we celebrate and commemorate the signing of the declaration of independence in the United States of America in 1776. And we highlight the work that the founding fathers did in bringing about freedom from British colonialism; indeed their efforts are to be commended. But I wanted to build upon that and highlight the life of a key figure in the fight for American freedom, namely, Crispus Attucks.

Crispus Attucks a Patriot
Crispus Attucks (1723 –1770) was a seaman and ropemaker of both African American and Native American ancestry. He was the first American to be killed during the Boston Massacre and thus the first person killed in the American Revolution. However, not many Americans even know who he was. 

Attucks and The Boston Massacre
Tension began to mount in Boston in 1768 as a result of the passage of the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts by the British government. These acts greatly infringed upon the rights of the American colonists. They were increasingly frustrated by the British government’s growing attempts to control their actions from England, without giving them proper representation in parliament. By the fall the British sent soldiers to try to get a handle on the mounting unrest by the colonists, who had begun attacking local officials. However, the arrival of troops only made things worse, further raising tensions. Things came to a head on March 5, 1770 when colonists began to attack soldiers, throwing snowballs and debris at them. Crispus Attucks joined the crowd with a group of men armed with clubs. It is believed that he struck one of the soldiers with a piece of wood. The soldiers began to fire upon the crowd, killing five people, with Attucks being the first to die. Two ricocheted bullets hit his chest and killed him. “Attucks’ body was carried to Faneuil Hall, where it lay in state until Thursday, March 8, when he and the other victims were buried together in the same grave site in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground. He had lived for approximately 47 years.”   

The story of Crispus Attucks is another example of how African American history has been omitted from history books in K-12 schools across the US. Often when we celebrate the Fourth of July there is a Eurocentric focus on the founding fathers. While men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock were very important, many others contributed to the quest toward freedom that are not often mentioned. This includes Native Americans, those Blacks that were enslaved throughout the revolution and even those African Americans who laid down their lives fighting in the war of Independence. Crispus Attucks represents all of the unsung heroes who do not get their due recognition in American history.

Questions for discussion:
1. Did you get an opportunity to learn about Crispus Attucks in your K-12 schooling?
2. If so, to what extent did you learn about him? In what context?
3. Why do you think the material about Attucks and other similar topics were not covered in classes?
4. What are creative ways teachers can incorporate the study of Crispus Attucks into their curriculum?
Here are some resources and Lessons that can help teachers integrate material on Crispus Attucks into their planning:

Elementary Grades
Crispus Attucks & the American Revolution: Lesson for Kids
Lesson Plan on Crispus Attucks

Middle School and High School
The Boston Massacre: You be the judge!
Middle School History Lesson Plan on Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre
Crispus Attucks & the Boston Massacre: March 5, 1770
Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre
Who is Crispus Attucks? A Unknown Hero

Crispus Attucks, First Martyr of the American Revolution | Biography
Crispus Attucks & the American Revolution
CityLine: Crispus Attucks, Fallen Patriot

We are open to feedback and discussion. If you see any typos or grammatical errors please feel free to email the author and editor at the address below:

Dr. David Childs 


  1. I had never heard of Crispus Attucks until my sophomore year of college. This is drastic considering I was taught about the Boston Massacre in around the fourth or fifth grade. Not only is him being the first person killed so important, but the fact that he was a black man makes it even more major. I feel this is an amazing example of how easily black history can be incorporated into classrooms other than just black history month. It is also a great example of how back history and major black historical figures are so easily brushed over in our curriculum.

  2. The story of Crispus Attucks, sheds light on the fact that truth is circulated through false knowledge. Children are being taught only what they want them to know. Not that the colonists we provoked, not listened to, or disrespected. There is always two sides of every story. Presenting both sets of “facts” (Attucks and Boston Massacre) then the students could compare and contrast the two.
    I feel that this story and other that may be similar are left out because, this country is so set in its ways. We refuse to see that there are two sides to every story. Not all knowledge is informed knowledge. How can we educate children on these events in history without displaying all the facts?

  3. I never in my K-12 school experience learned about Crispus Attucks. Whenever we did learn about the Boston Massacre, it was mostly in passing. We just learned that it was a dispute between the colonists and British soldiers where it was unclear who started the fight first. We spent 30 minutes on the event and then moved on, with only having to know it’s impact on starting the American Revolution. Crispus is just one example of a minority voice being lost in history because the European decent voice is valued more. So many stories about people of color get lost because of white privilege. I’m thankful that I got to learn about Crispus Attucks and his importance in history.

  4. Other than briefly and in passing, I have never had an opportunity to learn about Crispus Attucks in my K-12 schooling. As this article states, Crispus Attucks represents the unsung heroes of the American Revolution. Attucks, a man of both African American and Native American descent, was the first man to die in the Boston Massacre– which marked the beginning of the American Revolution. His story going untold– under-emphasized at the very least– is one of many examples of American history ignoring the contribution of those not of European ancestry. If the whole story of American History is to be told, American educators need to break from this trend and share the stories of all the brave, brilliant, and outspoken people who made this country what it is today.

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