This study illustrates and assesses the historical amnesia surrounding Crispus Attucks and his role in the American Revolution between his death at the 1770 Boston Massacre and the 1850s, when he first became widely used as a symbol of African American patriotism and citizenship. Studies of collective memory and the role it plays in shaping historical understanding, developing commemorative traditions, defining culture heroes, and constructing group or national identity, have been expanding in recent decades, including significant work related to the Revolutionary era and African American history. In particular, there are growing bodies of work on blacks’ uses of public commemoration and on the development of a pantheon of race heroes to advance both race pride and African Americans’ legitimate claims to American citizenship. Scholarship on figures such as Richard Allen, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, and others suggests the ways in which black Americans have constructed heroic traditions in ways that fostered both racial and American identities. After the 1850s, black activists presented Crispus Attucks as a “black Founding Father”—not merely an important race hero, but a legitimate national hero. But this seminal figure in African Americans’ quest to define their legitimate place in United States history and culture was virtually ignored by both blacks and whites in the early republic. Understanding the process of Attucks’s rediscovery after the 1830s contributes not only to our understanding of African American history, but also to our understanding of how collective memory is constructed and appropriated to serve particular political agendas.


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pp. 249-286
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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