Friday, July 16, 2021

Let's Celebrate America's Black Patriots

By BURGESS OWENS | Newsweek

Black Founding Father Crispus Attucks (Courtesy of Bridgewater State College / Library of Congress)

 All over America, we are seeing our country, national anthem and flag under assault by celebrities, athletes and media talking heads. The nation and symbols that represent freedom and opportunity to so many are being painted as divisive and hateful by ill-intentioned revisionists. But there is a simple disinfectant to the anti-American virus we are seeing everywhere: true American history.

As our history is stolen and rewritten, Americans lose not only pride in our past, but also appreciation for our present and a vision for our future. We're seeing this unfold as the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) continues to infiltrate our classrooms. Although radicals would like the masses to believe otherwise, America has historically revered its Black patriots from our visionary beginning. Consider Crispus Attucks—our nation's first martyr for the cause of freedom—and James Armistead—whose infiltration behind British lines as an American spy was essential for success in our final revolutionary battle at Yorktown. Attucks and Armistead were both Black Americans.

A walk through true American history reveals America's acknowledgement of Black contributions. Through tens of thousands of pictures and documents archived in the Library of Congress, white American historians have preserved a 230-year legacy of respect for Black Americans. Yet it is virtually impossible to find reference to America's Black patriots in today's educational system. These heroes have been universally (and purposefully) erased from the national public school system curriculum.

If you are looking for systemic racism, don't look in the American story; it can be found in an educational system that has yet to teach true history in its entirety. Our nation has always sought to form a more perfect union, and though not flawless, it has done better than any other in the history of mankind. Within our DNA is a desire to unify and encourage the acceptance of others.

The present attempt to rewrite American history denies the 245 years we have spent honoring the accomplishments of the Black community. It instead offers the narrative of a hapless and hopeless intergenerational community; one historically oppressed by a more powerful and privileged white race. This propaganda has resulted in an increasing number of angry Americans.

Sandra Yocum and Frances Rice's Black History 1619-2019 describes the characteristic make-up of 250-plus Black Founding Fathers. They were inspirational leaders in the development of an independent and self-governing America. Their lives were meaningful enough to be remembered forever in the annals of history. Not all were signers of the Declaration of Independence, and their occupations were diverse—they were statesmen, printers, farmers, doctors, lawyers and business owners. There were also Black soldiers who fought in fully integrated regiments, side by side, with their white counterparts.

It is time for us to collectively acknowledge the Founding Fathers who have been deleted from our modern-day curriculum. It is time to teach our children about the Black patriots whose inspirational courage, leadership and contributions were instrumental in our quest for independence.

Crispus Attucks: A leader during the demonstration that preceded the Boston Massacre, he was the first American martyr for the cause of freedom. The only Black man present at this uprising, his leadership and courage leading up to his death secured his place in history.

James Armistead: Instrumental in the success of the final battle of the Revolutionary War. A courageous, ingenious and loyal spy, Armistead delivered intelligence to General George Washington that ensured the surrender of the British General Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown. The Paris Treaty was signed a year later. Formally a slave during the war, Armistead reported to the Marquis de Lafayette, who played an integral role in granting him his freedom.


The 2008 Memorial Plaque Honoring Black Founding Father Prince Eastabrook in Lexington, Massachusetts (Courtesy of Alice M. Hinkle Memorial Fund / Library of Congress)

Prince Estabrook: A slave who in 1775 was one of the Lexington, Massachusetts, Minutemen who awaited the arrival of the British Regulars at Buckman Tavern. He was wounded in the first battle in the American Revolution and is now recognized as the first of more than 5,000 Blacks who would play a part in the Continental Army. In Lexington, there is a plaque commemorating his contribution.


Washington Crossing the Delaware River prior to the Battle of Trenton, illustration by Emanuel Leutze (Library of Congress)

Oliver Cromwell: A light-skinned Black farmer. He is speculated to be the highest figure at the bow, guiding the boat in the famous 1851 painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware. Cromwell served in battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, Monmouth and Yorktown.

Prince Whipple: Possibly from a royal African family and sold into slavery. He's also pictured with Washington crossing the Delaware in the famous painting, behind Oliver Cromwell to the right. He fought in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 and Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. Whipple was later an aide to Washington's general staff. After the war, he was granted his freedom.


Peter Salem can be seen on the lower right-hand side of the painting. The death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, illustration by John Trumbull. (Library of Congress)

Peter Salem: A Black marksman who enlisted in the Massachusetts Minutemen and played a vital role in one of the most important battles of the revolutionary war: the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill. As the British attempted to overtake the Americans position, British Major John Pitcairn demanded their surrender shouting "this day is ours." Peter Salem's alleged response was to shoot and kill Pitcairn, confusing the British and saving the day for the colonists.

As Leftist organizations and activists demand that Americans accept a revisionary and divisive version of American history, let's choose a different way. Instead of tolerating the falsehood that we, as Americans, fundamentally judge others based on their race, let's return to the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr, 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."

Let's return to the simple values of my parents' generation. They lived through a global depression and fought to save the world from Nazism; they loved God, country and family and respected women and moral authority. But there is one more essential part of the equation: courage. It will take courage to speak basic truths to those who demand "safe spaces" in a free society—a dream for the weak, insecure and cowardly. The brave of heart, those who take risks and seek opportunity outside of their comfort zone and embrace others regardless of their differences, are those who will find peace and security from within.

French General Marquis de Lafayette and James Armistead, engraving made from the 1783 Jean-Baptiste Le Paon painting of Lafayette at Yorktown (Library of Congress)

May God bless America and the visionary patriots like Crispus Attucks, James Armistead, Peter Salem, Prince Estabrook, Oliver Cromwell, Prince Whipple and many, many others. These are our ancestral heroes, our Founding Fathers, whose sacrifice allowed our flag and national anthem to serve as uniting symbols for over two centuries. They signify a history we all share and that we can all be proud of. That is what "We the People" truly means.

To the dark and divisive ideology that works to infect our educational system with selective amnesia, so we turn our backs on our great history and Black American heroes, our message is simple: We will not.

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Burgess Owens is the U.S. Representative for Utah's Fourth district.