- Crispus Attucks
- ca. 1945
- Not on view
- 29 1⁄2 x 30 7⁄8 in. (74.9 x 78.4 cm.)
- Credit Line
- Gift of the Harmon Foundation
- Mediums Description
- oil on paperboard
- History — United States — Boston Massacre
- State of being — death — execution
- Figure group
- History — United States — Revolution
- African American
- Object Number
Johnson presented Crispus Attucks (1723--1770) in a Christ-like pose at the center of his scene of the Boston Massacre. Three American colonists, all of them praying women, face a line of British soldiers who point muskets at the unarmed group. Tensions were high when, on the night of March 5, 1770, a small unarmed band of colonists confronted armed British soldiers. Shots were fired. When the smoke cleared, Attucks, a former slave, and two others lay dead. They were the first casualties of the American Revolution.
For roughly seventy years after the Boston Massacre, the martyrdom of this Black man was largely erased. Not until 1855, when William Cooper Nell, a Black abolitionist from Boston, published a book on free people of color who fought for American liberty, was Attucks's story retold. His name became a rallying cry during the Civil War; for Johnson, he endured as a powerful symbol of courage and sacrifice.