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Victims or Victors? Remembering the Unsung Black Freedom Fighters of the American Revolution



Virgil Walker is the co-host of the Just Thinking Podcast. Follow Virgil on Twitter at @VirgilWlkrOMAHA.



The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, marks a historic time in American history. Far from being a perfect nation, the Declaration’s authors understood the ideals for which any sovereign country should aim. Thomas Jefferson would pen the Declaration’s famous opening line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


Generations of Americans would celebrate this date as the mark of a country that would strive to put these words into practice. 


However, every Fourth of July, without fail, some social justice warrior, in need of adoration from the woke masses, decides to tweet something about how America is still a racist nation. Then, with one self-aggrandizing tweet, they scold others to hold America in contempt for the Independence Day celebration. Seemingly unbeknownst to them is the level of cognitive dissonance between the fame, popularity, and success they experience and the ideas of oppression they believe exist all around them. 


For example, Lebron James, arguably one of the most recognized men on the planet — not to mention one of the wealthiest — took to Twitter after the Ahmaud Arbery shooting to declare, “We’re literally hunted every day/every time we step foot outside the comfort of our homes!” 


Rather than view those who suffered historical oppression as victors who overcame incredible odds, social justicians use the images of former slaves as props to tell their own self-indulged story of ongoing modern-day oppression. American Christian Hip-hop artist Lecrae used such a prop, posting a picture to Twitter in 2016 that he claimed was his family in 1776; it wasn’t his family, but a photo of random black people standing in a cotton field.


Sadly, numerous other Christians have followed Lecrae’s lead. 


Yet, the differences between 1776 and 2021 could not be more drastic. In 1776 the survivors of real oppression looked to overcome their status; however, in 2021, those experiencing the rich rewards of success grip the chains of oppression for the intersectional advantage it provides. The images of slavery serve the woke as punchline props used to garner sympathy for the oppression they have never experienced. 


Today, our culture honors keyboard warriors who signal their virtue with a sanctimonious tweet to the applause of the masses. Instead, what society could use are the courageous stories of those who, at the risk of their lives, overcame the odds to secure freedom. Rather than serve up victims, why not present unsung heroes as victors over circumstance? 


A brief examination of 1776 would bring a number of these stories to light. Historians estimate between 5,000 and 8,000 blacks participated in the American Revolution on the side of the patriots. In addition, stories abound of the heroism of blacks fighting on behalf of the colonies while fighting for their own emancipation.


James Armistead, born a slave in Virginia in 1748, is one such man. At the time of the American Revolution, Armistead, with the promise of freedom, decided to fight for the patriots and was permitted to do so by his master. James Armistead would become one of the most famous double agents in American history. Claiming to be a runaway slave, Armistead was received by the British and given increasingly essential roles and information.


This information would be quickly returned to the patriots and eventually given to Gen. George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army. Washington would ultimately use the details provided by Armistead to create a blockade that kept British forces from being equipped to continue the war. As a result, Armistead is credited with directly aiding the surrender of the British on October 19, 1781.


Upon returning home from the war, Armistead learned that the State of Virginia had not kept its promise to free him from slavery. Securing freedom would require a letter sent by Armistead’s commanding officer, General Marquis de Lafayette, validating James’s critical role in securing the freedom that all enjoyed. After receiving his release, James Armistead would live as a free man, but changed his name to James Armistead Lafayette to honor the man who helped him obtain his freedom.


The path of history is not always a straight line. However, the bravery, fortitude, and patience of men who made history should never be used as a punchline for the self-indulgent behavior of the woke. Men like James Armistead Lafayette are too weighty for that; they worked too hard, risked too much, and fought far too long to secure the freedom we enjoy today.


Rather than using his image or that of others to claim an ongoing victimhood status, serious historians should leverage the courage of men like this to proclaim their victory over circumstance.