Crispus Attucks – An icon of the struggle for freedom and equality
In our month-long celebration of Black History Month, we’re profiling some of the lesser-known historical heroes of African-American culture and society to emphasize the sacrifices and contributions ALL of us have made—and continue to make—for our country.
In 1976, at the height of his creative genius and fame, musician Stevie Wonder released Songs in the Key of Life. Among the tracks on the double-album was “Black Man,” on which he proudly proclaimed:
The First man to die
For the flag we now hold high
Was a Black man
Despite this reference, and numerous others, many people are still unaware that a Black man was the first recorded death in the Revolutionary War. Crispus Attucks was struck by bullets fired in the Boston Massacre and his legacy is a potent message of moral courage.
It is the sport of historians to argue the early life of Attucks. He was either a runaway slave or a freeman who spent nearly two decades as a stevedore on sailing ships. His mother was a Native American.
In the years leading up to the Boston Massacre, British soldiers had been sent to the colonies to control growing unrest, which had been fueled by the Stamp Act and the Townsend Acts. On March 5, 1770, a dustup over an unpaid barber bill escalated quickly to a melee between colonials and redcoats.
Guns were fired; three colonials died instantly, two were mortally wounded. Attucks was the first to fall and thus, became one of the first men to lose his life in the cause of American independence. His body lay in state in Boston’s Faneuil Hall, and all five killed that day were buried as heroes in Boston’s Granary Burying Ground—a rare honor for a Black man when customs of the time discouraged the burial of black and white people together.
Just over a century later, the Crispus Attucks monument was unveiled in Boston Common, a symbol of African-American’s struggle for freedom and equality, a struggle that continues today.