Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University
The Fourth of July celebration commemorates the signing of the declaration of independence in the United States of America in 1776. In light of the recent string of deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement and the Black Lives Matter movement, I wanted to 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:
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