Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Forgotten Black Heroes in US History

The new documentary “Black Patriots” examines African American revolutionaries who fought in America’s War of Independence. From the initial sparks of revolution to the climactic Siege of Yorktown, the program tells the story of the revolution from the point of view of key African Americans active in the founding of the republic. Executive producer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joins Christiane to discuss.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: What made you do this particular project? It’s really, really fascinating.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I thought that most people don’t understand why America became what it has become. And there are many reasons for that. And part of the American Revolution was in the hands of black Americans who made it possible for the American Revolution to succeed. And I think that we should all understand that, especially black Americans, because they have to understand their stake in our country. This is their country.

AMANPOUR: Yes. At what point did you realize? I mean, what was the thing that triggered you? When did you realize that their historic role was written out of the books, so to speak?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, just when I thought back to the history books that I had to deal with when I was in grade school and high school, they never ever dealt with this subject. And all American kids learn about the establishment of our country. It’s part of our civic education. And black people are — were never included in that recitation of history, and we have to change that.

AMANPOUR: So, we have a few images of some of the black people, as you mentioned, who are profiled in the film. One of them — the first one we have is Crispus Attucks. Now, he was the man who was thought to have a black father, native American mother, he escaped slavery and was working around Boston Harbor and he’s widely regarded as the first person killed in the Boston Massacre, which essentially triggered the American Revolution. Here’s a little clip and then I want to talk about his life and his contribution.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A group of these black and white dock workers who come together and try to form a public procession to declare their outrage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that point, because he was a run away, the prudent thing for Attucks to do would be to quietly back away and kind of get out of this fight. But that was not his, I think, character or personality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attucks is described as being at the front of this crowd, big guy, and he’s carrying a big club, and some of the British records would say that he’s brandishing the club, that he’s menacing the British soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We know that the British soldiers were harassing them back. And so, it was a back and forth. The British had guns and the British used them.

About This Episode EXPAND

David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, gives an update on the humanitarian crisis in Idlib, Syria. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells Christiane the stories of black patriots overlooked in U.S. history. Hoan Ton-That, the founder and CEO of Clearview AI, joins Hari Sreenivasan for a conversation on the societal implications of facial-recognition technology.