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Imagining Crispus Attucks: Changing Images of a Black Icon from the Eighteenth Century to the Twenty-First

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Abstract:

In 1944 L. D. Reddick, African American curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, asserted that “traditional forms of ‘education’” were “incapable of any major influence” in shaping ideas about race in “the public mind.” “If the main task of the educative process is the transmission of the culture of the society,” he argued, “then the great educational agencies of the United States are . . . its movie houses, newspapers and magazines.” This paper explores Reddick’s thesis about the power of images in American popular culture by analyzing visual depictions of Crispus Attucks.

Since his death in the 1770 Boston Massacre, images of Attucks have been important in constructing meaningful narratives to educate the American public. He was first presented by Boston’s patriots as an unraced victim of British tyranny. In the mid-nineteenth century, black abolitionists presented an unequivocally black Attucks to demonstrate African Americans’ citizenship and essential Americanness. Since that time, visual representations of Attucks have continued to serve that symbolic role while expanding to depict him as hero or villain; noble freedom fighter or sell-out Uncle Tom; integrationist victim or Afrocentric rebel. This paper discusses visual representations of Attucks from the 1770s, 1850s, 1940s, 1960s, and 2010s to emphasize Attucks’s malleability as a symbol and his continuing relevance in the discourse of race and belonging in American society.
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Association:
Name: 102nd Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History
URL:
http://www.asalh.org


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1285523_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Kachun, Mitch. "Imagining Crispus Attucks: Changing Images of a Black Icon from the Eighteenth Century to the Twenty-First" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 102nd Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH, <Not Available>. 2018-06-18 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1285523_index.html>

APA Citation:

Kachun, M. "Imagining Crispus Attucks: Changing Images of a Black Icon from the Eighteenth Century to the Twenty-First" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the 102nd Annual Meeting and Conference of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel, Cincinnati, OH <Not Available>. 2018-06-18 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1285523_index.html

Publication Type: Abstract
Abstract: In 1944 L. D. Reddick, African American curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature, asserted that “traditional forms of ‘education’” were “incapable of any major influence” in shaping ideas about race in “the public mind.” “If the main task of the educative process is the transmission of the culture of the society,” he argued, “then the great educational agencies of the United States are . . . its movie houses, newspapers and magazines.” This paper explores Reddick’s thesis about the power of images in American popular culture by analyzing visual depictions of Crispus Attucks.

Since his death in the 1770 Boston Massacre, images of Attucks have been important in constructing meaningful narratives to educate the American public. He was first presented by Boston’s patriots as an unraced victim of British tyranny. In the mid-nineteenth century, black abolitionists presented an unequivocally black Attucks to demonstrate African Americans’ citizenship and essential Americanness. Since that time, visual representations of Attucks have continued to serve that symbolic role while expanding to depict him as hero or villain; noble freedom fighter or sell-out Uncle Tom; integrationist victim or Afrocentric rebel. This paper discusses visual representations of Attucks from the 1770s, 1850s, 1940s, 1960s, and 2010s to emphasize Attucks’s malleability as a symbol and his continuing relevance in the discourse of race and belonging in American society.


 
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