Remembering Crispus Attucks on The Fourth of July

Bridgewater State College- Public Domain

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

Introduction
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:

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

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



7 Comments

  1. The name Crispus Attucks sounded so familiar to me that I clicked on this article. I love American history especially during the Revolutionary period. When learning about the Boston Massacre I have no memory of learning about Crispus Attucks or the role he played in the event while in school. It saddens me that such a person was never spoken about or at the very least mentioned considering what a monumental moment this was, essentially starting the war. I feel that while it is important to learn about the founding fathers and the roles they played in shaping our country, teachers need to start focusing on the other important players who are less noticed and not discussed enough. More than ever it is important that students can see the roles that other people besides white men played such as women, African Americans and Native Americans in the molding of history.

  2. I found this article very interesting because Crispus Attucks was someone that I remember learning about in my fifth-grade social studies class. And I went to a very small and rural elementary school. This man who lost his life in the Boston Massacre was actually the only man I remember of the five men who were killed. We used a textbook that was published in 2002 called History Alive! The United States through Industrialism. In my Canvas submission I have attached two pictures that includes the information regarding the Boston Massacre and the death of Crispus Attucks from this textbook that I found through a PDF of the chapter. You can see under the “Mob Violence Breaks Out” heading that he is mentioned. My teacher also made an effort to discuss all of the deaths from the Boston Massacre and explain their importance. We specifically focused on Crispus Attucks because he was an African American living in colonial America and our teacher wanted us to understand the diversity among people living in the colonies during this time. I am aware that some schools may not have the same priorities when teaching about African American or Native American history, and that’s a shame. After reading this article, I feel very lucky to have learned about Crispus Attucks in a public-school setting.

  3. This is amazing as a historian i love learning new things. This name was not one known to me. An African American man who gave his life and the beginning of one of the most world changing events in history should be remembered more than he currently is.

  4. This is a super cool article to read because I had no idea who Crispus Attucks was. This is another reason why we as future teachers have to do a better job as teaching our history in a more accurate way rather than just the European side. To me it is crazy how this man was the first person killed in the Boston Massacre thus being the first death in the American revolution was not talked about in any other classroom that I was in.

  5. In my prior educational endeavors, I learned about Crispus Attucks in the context of the Boston Massacre. I realize that this can vary greatly depending upon the school district in question; I was privileged to be in one that was highly regarded and covered content thoroughly. However, despite having the knowledge of Attucks, I do not ever recall special attention being placed upon him. It’s important for articles like this to be made so that the sacrifices of all involved in the revolution are not forgotten. Although there are many that contributed that are praised during holidays, rarely is the spotlight placed onto lesser-known, yet just as impactful figures in history. I think students should certainly be taught about this, as it can broaden their perspectives and help them appreciate all that was done during that time period by various individuals.

  6. I have never heard this name before, but after this article and doing some of my own research I was baffled on why I have never heard this name before. I think that we should add emphasize on multiculturalism in our current eurocentric history books.

  7. Crispus Attucks was an unfamiliar name to me as well which is part of the reason it caught my eye. I think it is really neat that he represents both African American and Native American and for this reason, it is a shame we do not hear about him more. While big names such as George Washington take the spotlight during the American Revolution, people like Attucks still should be made known as one of the first men to give up his life for a young country.

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