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Monday, January 21, 2013

AFRICAN-AMERICANS AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION


AFRICAN-AMERICANS AND THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the work he did to promote equal treatment and opportunity for all. This champion of the African-American civil rights movement, and Baptist preacher, pursued his goal by way of non-violent civil disobedience. In his 1963 Washington D.C. speech “I have a dream”, two particular lines stand out above all others to me.

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.' . . .

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

Crispus Attucks
The story of African-American patriots goes back to the very beginning of our nation – those who served in the American Revolution.  As early as 1770, black Americans were supporting the Patriot cause. One of the first battles was the March 5, 1770 Boston Massacre which aimed to remove British troops from Boston. Crispus Attucks was one of a group of dock workers, sailors, apprentices, and servants who were antagonizing British soldiers on the Boston Commons. Attucks, a black patriot, led the charge and was the first to lose his life.  
1975 Postage Stamp honoring Salem Poor 

Salem Poor, a freed black slave, was one of the Minutemen who fought at Concord, Massachusetts in April of 1775. He also served at the battles of Bunker Hill, Saratoga, and Stony Point.

In November of 1775, the English royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, issued a proclamation declaring martial law, that all Patriots were traitors, and promising freedom for any slaves who would join the Loyalist cause. He thought a slave uprising would create a fear among the Patriots, cause mistrust between master and slave, and make the Patriots back down from seeking independence. It’s estimated that somewhere between 800 and 2,000 slaves from both Loyalist and Patriot owners enlisted with Dunmore; however it was short lived as Dunmore fled the colony in 1776, taking only 300 former slaves with him.

Those slaves who joined the Loyalist or Patriot cause were not motivated by revenge against their masters but for the opportunity to secure their freedom. The decision to support one cause or the other was as divided in black families as it was in white ones. This was perhaps our first civil war, separating families and friends.

 The contradiction of white Patriots desiring independence from Britain while owning slaves caused many whites, including southerners, to begin to question the institution of slavery. Many slaves, promised freedom for their service, fought on the side of the Patriots. The Sons of the American Revolution estimate that as many as 20,000 may have served. The pursuit of liberty united black and white Americans and the war was won.

5 comments:

  1. Great post. Gave me goosebumps. Of course, I already knew about MLK Jr., but not the other men. Thanks for sharing and broadening my education of African-Americans during the American Revolution. God bless.

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  2. Thank you, Debbie. I thought their motivation for fighting was interesting.

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  3. Principles or pragmatism... I wonder which is the stronger motivator for revolution. It's part of the crux of the matter with my WIP Andrew's Forge.

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  4. I can't help thinking that it was a sad, sad situation for those who backed the patriots, since England granted slaves their freedom long before America. Bitter-sweet victory.

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  5. Thanks for stopping by Judith and Dina. I've no doubt they were torn, and like the colonists, it divided families and friendships.

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