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Each week at In The Past Lane, the American history podcast, host and Historian-at-Large, Edward T. O’Donnell, brings you news, stories, interviews, and special features on all things U.S. history. His aim is to be both engaging and thought-provoking, inspired by the notion that history explains the world we live in and provides insights into how to achieve a more prosperous, peaceful, and just future. So come along with us as we journey In The Past Lane.  

Jul 3, 2018

This week at In The Past Lane, the history podcast, I speak with historian Mitch Kachun about his book, The First Martyr of Liberty: Crispus Attucks in American Memory.  Attucks was the man of African American and Native American heritage who was among the five people killed in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.  To this day, very little is known about Crispus Attucks. So Mitch Kachun’s book focuses, as the subtitle suggests, on the memory of Attucks and how it’s changed and evolved over nearly 250 years of history.  


In the course of our discussion, Mitch Kachun explains:

Who Crispus Attucks was and what we know about why he was killed in the Boston Massacre.


How for many decades after the Boston Massacre and American Revolution, Crispus Attucks was a forgotten figure in US history. That is, until African American abolitionists in the 1840s and 1850s began to celebrate Attucks as a patriot as a way to bolster their demand for an end to slavery and the inclusion of blacks as full citizens of the republic.


How and why in the decades after the Civil War, as the freedoms won by African Americans were stripped away and replaced by Jim Crow white supremacy, black Americans clung to Crispus Attucks as a hero. As part of this process, they embellished his biography to make him appear every bit a patriot as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. 


How the US government used this image of Crispus Attucks the patriot as a way to recruit African Americans to fight in US wars.


How African American historians worked to have Crispus Attucks included in US history textbooks, something that finally began to happen in the 1960s during the era of the civil rights movement.


How some radical African American civil rights activists like Stokely Carmichael rejected Crispus Attucks as a model for black liberation.


How the story of Crispus Attucks and his presence – along with many other people of color – at the Boston Massacre serves as a reminder that American society has been diverse from the very beginning.

Recommended reading

Mitch Kachun, The First Martyr of Liberty: Crispus Attucks in American Memory.

Eric Hinderaker,  Boston’s Massacre

Holger Hoock, Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth

Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America

Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 

Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804
Related ITPL podcast episodes:

065 Andrew O’Shaughnessy on How the British Lost the American Revolution

049 Gordon Wood on the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson

041 Dean Snow on the pivotal Battle of Saratoga

028 Carol Berkin on the Crisis of the 1790s

023 Stephen Knott on the relationship between Alexander Hamilton and George Washington

017 Alan Taylor, American Revolutions

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Doc Turtle, “Thought Soup” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Dave Jackson of the School of Podcasting

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© In The Past Lane, 2018

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