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I’ve been kicking around the idea of doing a podcast for some time now and I’ve finally got around to doing it. Apropos of Black History Month, I’m going back through a book I read years ago by William C. Nell called Colored Patriots of the American Revolution.
Nell is basically the reason we’re familiar with Crispus Attucks. He and several others asked the Massachusetts legislature to erect a monument to Attucks as an honor to the first martyr of the Revolution. The committee handling the petition said someone else, a boy, had died earlier so their claim wasn’t valid.
At this point, the mid-18th century, the story about Attucks had been nearly forgotten. Nell began an intensive research effort to interview survivors and relatives to compile a record of these black patriots for posterity. His book is the product of that research.
I think his work is relevant today, especially in an era where we have fake history like the 1619 Project. Nell’s efforts almost seem quaint because his argument is that black people deserved as much credit for their contributions to the country as anyone else. He himself believed in achieving racial harmony through integration. To him, America wasn’t an irredeemably tainted country. He believed in its ideals, and that they should be equally applicable to all Americans.
The heroes in this book are men and women who fight for liberty when they themselves were slaves. For them, it was more than an abstract philosophy of government. It was also personal and concrete. If anyone deserved a pass on being cynical it’s a 19th-century slave, but there they were taking up arms and marching into battle. It should be no trouble for me to feel pride and optimism for America and its future.
So join me on this journey as we look at some fascinating stories of men and women who overcame their circumstances and achieved some remarkable goals. You’ll hear about the first black man to be ordained a minister, who then went on to pastor a white church; a slave who became a double-agent and helped win the war with intelligence from Cornwallis himself; and many more.