Professor Mitch Kachun’s new book illuminates the importance of Crispus Attucks in American history and memory. First Martyr of Liberty: Crispus Attucks in American Memory (Oxford University Press, 2017) explores how Crispus Attucks’ death in the 1770 Boston Massacre led to his achieving mythic significance in African Americans’ struggle to incorporate their experiences and heroes into the mainstream of the American historical narrative. While the other victims of the Boston Massacre have been largely ignored, Attucks is widely celebrated as the first to die in the cause of freedom during the era of the American Revolution. He became a symbolic embodiment of black patriotism and citizenship.
First Martyr of Liberty traces Attucks’ career through both history and myth to understand how his public memory has been constructed through commemorations and monuments; institutions and organizations bearing his name; juvenile biographies; works of poetry, drama, and visual arts; popular and academic histories; and school textbooks. There will likely never be a definitive biography of Crispus Attucks since so little evidence exists about the man’s actual life. While what can and cannot be known about Attucks is addressed here, the focus is on how he has been remembered variously–as either a hero or a villain–and why at times he has been forgotten by different groups and individuals from the eighteenth century to the present day.
For additional news and commentary on Professor Kachun’s book, see:
1. 50-minute audio interview on the African American Studies channel of the New Books Network, interviewed by James P. Stancil II:
2. Short written piece for the blog "The page 99 test":
3. Short written piece for the blog "My book, the movie":