How did Black America help birth a nation? In this special episode of the Black Is America podcast, we explore the story of the known patriots like Crispus Attucks and also some of the lesser-known ones like Peter Salem and Salem Poor. We also make...
How did Black America help birth a nation?
In this special episode of the Black Is America podcast, we explore the story of the known patriots like Crispus Attucks and also some of the lesser-known ones like Peter Salem and Salem Poor. We also make the case why the 4th of July is very important to Black America.
In this episode, you will hear:
Sources to create this episode come from History.com, Blackpast.com, Battlefield.org, and National Park Service at nationalparkservice.gov.
Scenes from Good Times are courtesy of Tandem Productions and Sony Pictures Television.
Did I ever tell you about that time when a Black soldier was a hero at Bunker Hill? And what if I told you that he wasn't the only one, not just at Bunker Hill, but throughout the Revolutionary War? Let me tell you all about it in this special 4th of July episode of Black Is America.
Before we get into the story, we have a new review I would love to share with all of you. This comes from Cab6 on Apple podcast. It's entitled Blown Away. Being a podcaster myself, I recognize and appreciate the time and talent it takes to produce such a smooth presentation, a technical masterpiece. Dominic orchestrates a great story within each episode. Keep it up and I look forward to listening to more episodes soon. Thank you, Cab6. I really appreciate that, and thank you for listening to the show. Please feel free to rate and review the show on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcast. We will appreciate that very much.
One of the things that you may not realize about the Black Is America podcast is that there are Easter eggs in some of the episodes, meaning there are things that I say that may allude to something that we're either going to cover in a later episode or maybe even in a later season. For example, do you remember when I said this in our feature on Lieutenant John Fox? That is because Black America has always answered the call to defend freedom, from Bunker Hill to the mountains of Afghanistan. Well, that Bunker Hill reference is what we're going to cover today, but I'm going to enlist the help of a famous American television family. About a year ago, I was watching an episode from the television program Good Times, the groundbreaking sitcom that ran on CBS for six seasons.
I'm going to assume if you listen to this podcast, then you are familiar with the show. And if you're not, I urge you to go and Google it. It's a really good show from the '70s. In season one episode five titled Michael Gets Suspended, as the title suggests, Michael gets suspended from school for making remarks about George Washington, our nation's first president, to his teacher. He wasn't all the way wrong, but more on that later. Now, he wants to drop out of school and Florida and James, his parents, tried to convince Michael to remain in school and apologize to his teacher. In this scene, Michael is in the bedroom awaiting punishment from his father, James. When his father comes in, Michael is eager to get his spanking or whipping or whooping, however you like to call it, over with.
Michael makes multiple attempts to put himself over his father's knees to receive his punishment, but James wants to first explain why he is punishing Michael in the first place.
Well, Michael. Hey! Now, don't rush me.
Might as well get it over with.
Well, I set the pace around here, if you don't mind. And before I do what I got to do, at least give me a chance to explain why I'm doing it. You see these hands, son? What do it mean to you?
They're the ones that's going to hit me.
No, I mean, these callouses, Michael. Son, that's why I want you to finish school so your hands don't never have to look like this. That's why I don't take no excuses when you mess up in school. I'd rather you be hurt a little bit now than hurt for the rest of your life. You understand me now? What the hell is your big hurry?
One of my heroes, Crispus Attucks, wasn't afraid when his turn came.
Now, who is Crispus Attucks?
I'm glad you asked, James Evans. But first, let's go back to March 5th, 1770 on King Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Days leading up, countless protests and civil unrest have been happening all around Boston and it has culminated into this angry crowd facing off against British soldiers on this frigid Boston night. This particular crowd has recently lost their jobs and they blame the British. Also there is Crispus Attucks, who was born in Framingham, Massachusetts. He is an experienced sailor and definitely had issues with the British. One was over the competition of sea work. The other was that by being an experienced sailor, British policy stated that at any moment, he could be conscripted or forced into the Royal Navy.
Being someone who escaped enslavement and was never caught, Uncle Crispus was not about that somebody about to tell me what to do life, so the intensity of his anger towards the British was immense. Now, you may have heard of Crispus Attucks before, but here are some details you may not be familiar with. For one, Crispus is six foot two inches, which places him about six to seven inches taller than most people of that era. Also, apparently Uncle Crispus, as we say on our culture today, had them hands because he was known as a tough and fearless street fighter in his day. I mentioned all of this because given his intense anger towards the British, his imposing stature, and the two wooden sticks he brought with him, it may make more sense why he found himself in front of an angry crowd coming face to face with heavily armed soldiers.
This patriot joins in the yelling and taunting of the soldiers. Now, the British are ordered not to fire on the colonist, but when Private Hugh Montgomery is hit with a club and knocked to the ground, this would escalate things greatly. Some accounts say it was Crispus who knocked the rifle away and hit the soldier and screamed, "Kill the dogs. Knock them over." Other accounts differ. But what we do know is that when the private gets up and regains his footing, he fires into the crowd. Crispus is hit, but not mortally wounded, but a second musket ball would hit him in the chest and it would be that fatal shot that would kill the first patriot in the American Revolutionary War. Four others will ultimately die from their musket ball injuries as well and they are all honored in a grand celebration attended by almost 12,000 Bostonians organized by Samuel Adams.
And that skirmish on that cold Boston night will forever be known as the Boston Massacre that led to the American Revolutionary War. I can see why Michael will look up to a person like Crispus Attucks.
He was a Black man. He was the first man to die in the Revolutionary War.
But then he references someone else.
One of us fought in Revolutionary War?
More than one. There was Peter Salem. He was the hero at Bunker Hill.
Why, I be damned!
Huh, the hero at Bunker Hill, you say. Thanks, Michael, I'll take it over from here. Let's time travel again to see about this American hero. On October 1st, 1750, another Framingham native like Crispus Attucks, Peter Salem is born into enslavement. However, unlike Crispus, Peter would remain enslaved until 1775 when Lawson Buckminster becomes a major in the Continental Army. He grants Peter emancipation on the agreement that he enlist in the army to fight against the British. He would fight alongside other Black Minutemen such as Alexander Ames, Titus Coburn, Salem Poor, and more. I'll circle back around to Salem Poor. Must be something about them Salem boys. Anyways, that brings us to June 17th, 1775. It's a hot and humid afternoon, as the British move across the Boston Harbor and land at Lower Charlestown.
They are concerned by the number of American forces, but the British believe they still have the numbers to win. The goal is to produce an all out assault to shock the Americans in a quick defeat. As a matter of fact, King George actually wants to wrap up this little colonial skirmish by the end of June. As the British scale up Breed's Hill, which technically is where this battle took place, the Americans are tired and low on ammunition. This is where the famous words from American officer William Prescott, "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes comes from." And I guess somebody must have saw the white of their eyes because the battle at Bunker Hill begins. The Americans unleashed a barrage of fire decimating British forces.
One American soldier would've recount that the British would "advance toward us in order to swallow us up, but they found a choking mouthful of us." It is a veritable blood bath, as the British retreat back to their lines. Fighting on the British side would be British Major John Pitcairn. The Americans are very familiar with Major Pitcairn as he led British forces in the Battle of Lexington, resulting in the deaths of eight Americans. There is an element of revenge for the Americans on this day. After the first couple of assaults fail, Major Pitcairn would lead his men to finally break through the American fortification, where he would meet Uncle Peter Salem and his rifle, receiving a fatal womb to the head. Meanwhile, the same fate would meet British Lieutenant Colonel James Abercrombie when he met Uncle Salem Poor and his rifle.
And while the British would ultimately win the Battle of Bunker Hill, these actions by these two great Americans would greatly raise the moral of American forces, which ultimately lead to an American victory of the American Revolutionary War. But that victory almost didn't happen. That is because during the war, Major General George Washington halted the enlistment of both freed and enslaved Black people. But he would change his tune at the urging of one of his top aids, Alexander Hamilton, and the fact that the Americans needed the manpower to even have a chance against arguably the greatest military force in the world at the time. I don't know if George Washington was a racist. What we do know is that he owned enslaved people, but there are many correspondences that suggest that he was very conflicted on the issue.
We also know that in his will upon his death, he granted emancipation to all the enslaved people he owned. As for the Salem boys, they would continue fighting during the war. Peter would be immortalized in a painting by John Trumbull displaying the Battle of Bunker Hill. The town of Framingham would erect a monument in his honor. Meanwhile, Salem Poor would receive a commendation from the State of Massachusetts. In 1976 for this nation's bicentennial, Salem was honored with a commemorative stamp. As you can see, Black America was instrumental in the creation of the United States. Crispus Attucks to the Salem boys, or even James Armistead Lafayette, who served as a spy and brought General Washington pivotal intel on British troop movement.
And don't even get me started on those enslaved Black people that taught the surgeons at Valley Forge about inoculation, which saved many of the American fighting force from an enemy greater than the British, smallpox. I'm telling you, when it comes to highlighting Black American patriots, as Captain America would say, I can do this all day. My point is that Black America was heavily relied upon in the creation of the United States of America, which leads me to this. This country is extremely complicated, and I absolutely understand why as a Black American, you may not want to celebrate the 4th of July or many other American holidays. There are countless contradictions to unpack. But as I said in the trailer for this show, the Black experience is so interwoven into the American experience that it's almost impossible to separate the two.
Our ancestors did what they had to do so that we can take care of our families and pursue how we define the American Dream. Like I said, it was a heavy price, but it was a price that was paid on a very cold night in Boston, a muggy day at the Battle of Bunker Hill and during the unbearable winter at Valley Forge by people who look just like us. And that is how Black America help birth a nation. The Black Is America podcast, a presentation of OWLS Education, was created and is written, researched, and produced by me, Dominic Lawson. Executive producer Kendall Lawson. Cover art was created by Alexandria Eddings of Art Life Connections. Sources to create this episode come from History.com, Blackpast.com, Battlefield.com, and the National Park Service at NationalParkService.gov.
Scenes from Good Times are courtesy of Tandem Productions and Sony Pictures Television. Be sure to like, review, and subscribe to the Black Is America podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you like to listen to podcasts. Also, let people know about the podcast. We would appreciate that very much for a full transcript of this episode and other resources, go to www.BlackIsAmericaPodcast.com. There you can read our blog, leave us a review, or you can leave a voicemail where you can ask a question or let us know what you think about the show that we may play in a later episode. You can also hit the donation button if you like what you heard, which helps us to create more educational content like this. Finally, thank you so much for listening to the Black Is America podcast, where our history comes to life. Until next time.