Over the almost 250 years since his death, Crispus Attucks has remained a symbol for various movements advocating for African American rights, from Abolitionism to the Civil Rights Movement. 21st Century movements have been no different. Attucks’s identity has been yet again recovered by the grassroots Black Lives Matter movement.
On October 17, 1976, to mark the bicentennial, the Boston Equal Rights League and the City of Boston held a ceremony in honor of Crispus Attucks, whom many considered an African American patriot and the first martyr of the American Revolution.
As civil rights leaders argued for basic freedoms for African Americans as American citizens, Crispus Attucks became a symbol of the continuous contribution of blacks to the nation. Many viewed his actions on that fateful day in March 1770 as a demonstration of the deep patriotism of blacks since the founding of this country, patriotism that African Americans still celebrate many years later.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a contested law that gave Southern slaveholders the power to intrude in Northern cities and take alleged fugitive slaves back to captivity. Animated by the hotbed of abolitionism taking hold in the city, Boston activists worked to maintain the freedom of fugitive slaves and even fought violently to maintain black freedom. Under these circumstances, many abolitionists invoked the memory of Crispus Attucks to justify their actions and called upon the need for black freedom.
Most Americans today recognize the Paul Revere print of the Boston Massacre. Thanks to every high school U.S. history textbook, Revere’s print is the image that comes to our minds when we think of the “Bloody Massacre” on March 5, 1770. But when we look at the famous print today, we realize that someone is missing from the scene: Crispus Attucks.