Mary Church Terrell

"Crispus Attucks" and "What Countries Have Done for Emancipated Slaves" - 03 March 1930

Mary Church Terrell
March 03, 1930
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[hw] Written for Oscar Depriest – went into the Congressional Record – March 3, 1930 3 Copies [hw]

Crispus Attucks.

The colonists were driven to rebellion by the unjust treatment of Great Britain. They were taxes without being allowed any representation in the British Parliament. “Taxation without representation” is unjust, they said. They did not resort to violence, however, until the British soldiers appeared on the streets of Boston to enforce the laws made by the British Parliament.

The presence of the British soldiers was more than the colonists could stand. The sight of them aroused the people to such a pitch of indignation and fury that they made up their minds to get rid of them, no matter what it might cost. A crows of men and boys met and decided they would drive the soldiers out of the city on the 5th of March 1770. Crispus Attucks, who was described by the newspapers of the time as a mulatto, gathered a crowd of men together on Dock Street and led them to what was then called King Street, but which is State Street now.

He stirred his followers up by making a speech in which he urged them to get rid of the soldiers right away. “The way to get rid of these soldiers,” said he, “is to attack the main guard. Strike at the root.” The men who followed him took up the cry. These soldiers have no business here, they shouted, and we will drive them out of the city. When Attucks and his followers drew near the sentinel, Attucks shouted “Kill him, Kill him.” They threw snow balls at the British soldiers, pieces of ice and whatever else they could lay their hands on.

“Don’t be afraid of these soldiers,”, shouted Attucks to his followers, “they dare not fire upon us. Why dont you kill them at once?” Just as Attucks lifted his arm against Captain Preston who commanded the English soldiers, they fired at him and killed him instantly. Crispus Attucks was the first to fall, therefore, in the struggle for independence which the colonists now began in earnest. After Attucks fell two white men were mortally wounded.

But the first blood spilled for the independence of this country was shed by a colored man. Certain people are trying to make it appear that Attucks does not deserve the distinction of being the first to fall in defense of freedom. But those who wrote the history of that time make it very clear that Crispus Attucks was the first man killed when the colonies began their struggle to free themselves from the injustice and tyranny perpetrated upon them by Great Britain. It is easy to furnish proof that Crispus Attucks is entitled to the distinction of being the first man to fell in the conflict between England and the colonies.

John Adam, the second president of the United States admitted that Crispus Attucks led the crowd which attacked the British soldiers, when he plead for them as their lawyer, when they were tried. There is no doubt that this “Boston Massacre” started the Revolutionary War. Daniel Webster declared that the time when the colonies were separated from the British Empire was the day on which Crispus Attucks fell a martyr to the cause of independence.

The body of Crispus Attucks was placed in Fanueil Hall, as was that of one of the men who fell shortly after he was killed. The bells of Boston were rung. A town meeting was called and a public funeral was held, because Crispus Attucks was called a martyr. All the shops of Boston were closed on the day of the funeral and more people are said to have gathered together on that occasion than had ever come together before for a similar purpose.

The three men who fell soon after Crispus Attucks was killed in what was called the Boston Massacre were buried with him in the same grave. A stone was placed over this last resting place of the four men on which the following tribute to them was inscribed:

“Long as freedom’s cause the wise contend,

Dear to your country shall your fame extend;

While to the world the lettered stone shall tell

Where Attucks, Caldwell, Gray and Maverick fell.”

Crispus Attucks ran away from his master, William Brown, who lived in Framingham, Mass. on the 30th of September, 1750. He was described in the newspaper in which his master had placed an advertisement for his capture as a “Mulatto Fellow about 27 years of age.” He was 6 feet 2 inches tall, He had short curly hair and “his knees were nearer together than common.” When he ran away he wore a light-colored bearskin coat, plain brown fustian jacket (or a brown, all-wool one, new buckskin breeches, blue yarn stockings and a checked, woolen shirt.” The masters of vessels and all others were warned against concealing Crispus Attucks on penalty of the law. This advertisement appeared in the Boston Gazette, October 2m 1750. On the 5th of March 1770, therefore, when Crispus Attucks fell a martyr in Boston he was 47 years old.

On the Boston Common to day there stands a monument erected by the citizens of Massachusetts to commemorate the patriotism and the courage of Crispus Attucks, a colored man.

[hw] M.C.T. March 3 – 1930 [hw]

What Countries Have Done for Emancipated Slaves.

Alexander the Second ascended the throne of Russia in 1855. Russian serfdom bore an analogous relation to American slavery. The landlords knew that the Czar intended to free the serfs, but they did not want to give them any land. “Look at these louts,” the nobles said, “they can neither read nor write; they have no capital; they have no credit; they have no enterprise.” A Committee was appointed to study the principles which should govern emancipation. The matter was in the hands of the nobles and land-owners. They recognized the serf’s right to personal freedom but they denied him any rights in the soil.

This principle of “liberty without land” was the battle cry of all parties in the upper ranks. “We shall emancipate the serfs, if we must,” they said, “but we shall emancipate them without land.” They declared that England, France and Germany had liberated their serfs and had given them no land and Russia should pursue the same course. But the Emperor knew that 48 millions of his people who were serfs expected him to deal justly by them. He saw that freedom without the means of living would be a fatal gift to the peasant, so “liberty and land” was adopted as his slogan.

But the princes, counts and generals, most of whom were old, voted against the Emperor and the serfs, when the matter was laid before the full council. But the Emperor used his power and on the 3rd of March 1861 the emancipation act was signed which provided that “liberty and land” was the principle for which he stood.

A certain portion of land, varying in different provinces according to soil and climate, was given to every serf. Government aid was also promised to the peasants who bought their homesteads. Then laws were enacted to prevent the serfs from wandering away from their homes until they had paid their debts. A serf was not allowed to leave his home until he had paid his taxes, satisfied all private claims, fulfilled all personal contracts and provided for the maintenance of such members of his family who on account of youth or old age might become a burden to the village.

The provisions made for the emancipation of the serfs in Russia were more generous than those made by any other country, for humanity dictated the terms under which they were set free.

Terrell, Mary Church. “'Crispus Attucks' and 'What Countries Have Done for Emancipated Slaves.” Mary Church Terrell Papers. Library of Congress. 03 March 1930.