Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

History

First Advisor

Kent Germany

Abstract

Separated into three interconnected parts, this thesis first proposes a reconfiguration of the vocabulary that historians use when classifying the memory and legacy of the American Revolution in the twentieth century. From there, I offer a comparative analysis of the Black Freedom Struggle’s relationship to the Declaration of Independence and other components of the American Revolution to demonstrate that the Revolution, while useful as a rhetorical tool or a conceptual model, functioned primarily as a counterpoint to the twentieth-century quest for Black citizenship. In other words, the American Revolution was a formidable example of radical protest in the American past, and civil rights activists readily defined the radicalism, or lack thereof, of their own battle for citizenship in relation to the Revolution. Using the Black press and public addresses, I unpack how Black Americans, whether leaders in the Movement or commonplace individuals sharing their opinions, conceptualized their relationship to the nation’s past and draw some conclusions as to the intellectual development of and historical memory espoused by Black Americans associated with the Movement. Lastly, I outline the evolving twentieth-century memory of Crispus Attucks, a Black casualty of the Revolution, to further differentiate leftist interpretations of Revolutionary memory in the 1960s and demonstrate how activists in the Movement attached the “all men are created equal” adage to historical Black protest. The invocation of American Revolutionary memory during the Black Freedom Struggle, although not totally divorced from original intent, championed a devotion to the principles of independence, as opposed to the discriminatory practices envisioned by the Founders. Nonetheless, those who waged the American Revolution, whether white Founders or Black soldiers, were certainly devoted American patriots that Black Americans could compare themselves to, whether favorably or unfavorably, during the battle for citizenship rights in the twentieth century.

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