Article by Howard Zinn • The Progressive • August 1998

This spring, I was invited to participate in a symposium in Boston at the historic Faneuil Hall (named after a slave trader but the site of many abolitionist meetings). The topic was to be the Boston Massacre. I hesitated a moment, then said yes, I would speak, but only if I could also speak about other massacres in American history.

It was clear to me that the Boston Massacre, which took place on March 5, 1770, when British troops killed five colonists is a much-remembered—indeed, over-remembered—event. Even the word “massacre” is a bit of an exaggeration: Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says the word denotes “wholesale slaughter.”

Still, there is no denying the ugliness of a militia firing into a crowd, using as its rational, the traditional claim of trigger-happy police—that the crows was “unruly” (as it undoubtedly was). John Adams, who was defense lawyer for the British soldiers and secured their acquittal, described the crowd as “a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes and mulattos, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tars.”

Adams could hardly have expressed more clearly that the race and class of the victims (one of the dead, Crispus Attucks, was a mulatto) made their lives less precious.

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