By: Tony Best
“The way to get rid of these troops is to attack the main guard.”
The troops Crispus Attucks had in mind were English soldiers, one of whom fired the shot that ended the life of the first person to shed his blood in the struggle for American independence in 1770. Historians are divided over his early life, some saying he was born in Framingham in Massachusetts others contend he was from Barbados in the West Indies. Regardless of those conflicting details his justifiable presence in history books can’t be denied
“On that night, the foundation of American independence was laid,” was the way John Adams, a founding father described the events and the significance of the historic chapter in American history.
Ever since then, there has been a constant tug of war about the contribution of Blacks to the emergence of the United States as a sovereign country, free of English colonialism. And as the country celebrates yet another Independence Day anniversary on July 4, some factors are indisputable. The first is that Blacks were not simply present as hapless by-standers but were keen patriots, prepared as Attucks did to give their lives for freedom. Secondly, they have remained loyal to America.
They fought at Bunker Hill, shoulder to shoulder with whites who were rebelling against the English. Prince Hall, the founder of the first Black Mason Lodge and an advocate for the education of enslaved Blacks in Massachusetts, was among them. So too were Peter Salem, a member of the First Massachusetts Regiment, Pomp Fisk, Salem Poor and Seymour Burr who took on the Redcoats.
When George Washington crossed the Delaware River on a cold, windy night of December 25th, 1776 to attempt to capture the English Garrison at Trenton, Oliver Cromwell, a Black native of Burlington County in New Jersey, was among the 2,400 handpicked troops whose courage and daring caught the British by surprise. Never mind that when Washington organized the Continental Army in 1775 he forbade the recruitment of Blacks and the re-enlistment of “negroes” who had served at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, only to be forced to change his mind when Lord Dunmore, the last English Governor of Virginia, offered Blacks their freedom in exchange for fighting against the rebels.
That brief recollection of the birth of this great nation and the vital role of African-Americans and people from the Caribbean in that brutal struggle for freedom illustrates the determination of Blacks, both men and women to fight for a cause, especially one that involved liberty. And their bravery was never in doubt.
The trouble is that they have seldom been rewarded for their efforts and when the benefits do come, there is usually a campaign to rewrite history or to denigrate Blacks. And the campaigns dating back to slavery, through the civil war and the Reconstruction have usually been violent and vicious.
Four years after President Barack Obama, an outstanding public figure, a leader whose integrity, skill and commitment to the cause of humanity and the country can’t be questioned, there are the constant questions about his birth and truthfulness. No President in living memory has ever been treated in such an atrocious fashion despite the absence of any evidence to show him up as a person lacking in honor. The root of his troubles with his political opponents is the color of his skin, pure and simple.
Today, the paradox of having a Black President and the widespread but muted acceptance of racism brings back memories of the meeting of the April 1776 meeting of the Continental Congress which voted to halt slavery but retained the abhorrent practice. It was kept on the statute books as an awful fact of life for hundreds of thousands of enslaved men, women and children for almost a century before its abolition. The paradox was even more glaring back then when the white colonists pressed their demands for liberty from but many of them owned slaves.
But in much the same way that the enslaved fought for an end to colonialism, they are continuing the noble struggle for equality and the right to be treated with dignity in their homes, places of employment and in the nation’s classrooms. The worst environment for learning in 2012 can be found in predominantly Black schools. The nation’s jails, crammed with more than1 million inmates have a disproportionate share of people of color behind bars. Black unemployment rates in major cities and rural areas are often twice the size of white joblessness; and New York City’s stop and frisk policies strikes hard at Blacks and Hispanics, both in terms of young people detained and those actually charged with a crime.
Yes, the nation has made major strides that have resulted in people of color moving up the socio-economic ladder. But as the nation celebrates independence it’s obvious that more needs to be done to eliminate the specter of inequality.