Mitch Kachun

First Martyr of Liberty

Crispus Attucks in American Memory

Oxford University Press 2017

New Books in African American StudiesNew Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network August 23, 2017 James P. Stancil II

First Martyr of Liberty: Crispus Attucks in American Memory (Oxford University Press, 2017) explores how Crispus Attucks’ death in the 1770 Boston Massacre led...

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.

Mitch Kachun is Professor of History at Western Michigan University. He studied anthropology at Penn State University and studied history at Illinois State University before earning his M.A. and Ph.D. in history from Cornell. Kachun’s research focuses on how African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries used historical writing and public commemorations to work for equal rights, construct a sense of collective identity, and claim control over their status and destiny in American society. His first book was Festivals of Freedom: Memory and Meaning in African American Emancipation Celebrations, 1808-1915, and he was the co-editor of The Curse of Caste; or the Slave Bride: A Rediscovered African American Novel by Julia C. Collins. After First Martyr of Liberty Mitch Kachun’s next book-length project will be a biographical accounting of the early 20th Century African-American journalist Charles Stewart, tentatively titled The Life and Times of Colonel J. O. Midnight.


James P. Stancil II is an educator, multimedia journalist, and writer. He is also the President and CEO of Intellect U Well, Inc. a Houston-area NGO dedicated to increasing the joy of reading and media literacy in young people. He can be reached most easily through his LinkedIn page or at [email protected]org.

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