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(1862) William C. Nell Speaks At The Crispus Attucks Commemoration, Boston

March 5, 1862

As the Civil War raged in the South and West, William C. Nell, a prominent abolitionist and historian gave the keynote address at the Crispus Attucks Commemoration in Allston Hall in Boston honoring the only African American among the five men killed in the Boston Massacre nearly a century earlier. His remarks appear below.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:—Ninety-two years ago this day, Crispus Attucks, a colored man, resident in this State, of his intelligent free will, bore that foremost part in the scene on State (then King) Street, which we have assembled here to commemorate, and which should never be forgotten by any American patriot; especially by those identified with him by complexion and condition.

When the authorities of the town of Boston voted to merge the 5th of March celebration into the 4th of July, it would have been very well, and no need for its revival as a special commemoration,, had the people not so entirely, from that day to this, forgotten that the colored man was one of the “all men created free and equal,” and that he had with them shared the dangers of that struggle which resulted in the severance of the American colonies from the domination of monarchical England.

Hence was suggested the propriety of “a recurrence to first principles,” by annually observing this eventful day in American history, on which the colored man so signally distinguished himself for loyalty and patriotism.

The programme of this evening’s exercises will not admit of any elaborate presentation of the services of colored men “in the times that tired men’s souls,” in the war 1776, and also that of 1812. Massachusetts legislation, this session, has been active in removing the restrictions which have [borne] so heavily upon adopted citizens; and this is as it should be. I would have the sun of Republican Liberty shine upon them in all its meridian splendor. But, oh! the inconsistency, hypocrisy and injustice of that legislation, which, with one hand, extends to the foreign-born equal rights, and, with the other,

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