On Amistad Anniversary, A Call For Reparations

On Amistad Anniversary, A Call For Reparations
by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 20, 2013

La-Amistad-Amistad-Revolt-New-HavenAs he commemorated the history of a court case that freed a group of African slaves, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information proposed a new lawsuit—suing Spain for damage caused by the slave trade.

Minister Alpha Kanu (pictured), spokesman for the president of Sierra Leone, made that proposal Friday morning outside City Hall, standing in front of a statue commemorating the Amistad Revolt of 1839, in which a group of slaves took control of the Spanish slaving ship La Amistad.

Kanu said the Spanish government should pay reparations for capturing and trafficking the slaves on La Amistad, 164 years ago.

Kanu was the featured speaker at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Amistad Committee, an organization dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the Amistad Revolt, and the court case it prompted. The event, part of a day of activities, drew over 100 people, and featured city and state officials.

La Amistad

In 1839, La Amistad was near Cuba, transporting African slaves captured in Sierra Leone. On July 2, Sengbe Pieh, one of the slaves, led a revolt and seized control of the ship. The slaves tried to sail back to Africa, but the Spanish navigator guided the ship instead to Long Island. The slaves ended up in U.S. custody in New Haven.

A court case ensued to determine the fate of the captured slaves. John Quincy Adams argued on behalf of freeing the slaves. In 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been illegally held captive. The 35 surviving Africans were freed and returned to Sierra Leone.

 In his remarks on Friday, Kanu told the story of the Amistad Revolt, highlighting the fact that the slaves were captured after Britain and the United States had banned the international slave trade. The capture and transportation of the slaves amounted to a “crime against humanity perpetrated then by a sovereign nation,” Kanu said, referring to Spain.

“New Haven and Sierra Leone have a right to ask the Spanish government to pay reparations for the injustice done to our people,” Kanu said. “Why shouldn’t we ask?”

“I believe there is room for a class-action suit to be initiated,” Kanu said, to murmurs of assent from the crowd. “Let us make this a test case. … Let us stop crying and let us fight for those who have gone.”

Kanu later said that any reparations money should go to the Sierra Leone government, the people of New Haven, and living relatives of the Amistad captives.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some John Quincy Adamses to help us,” Kanu said.

Friday’s commemoration continue at the Grove Street cemetery, where the bodies of some of the Amistad captives are buried.

Amistad America

The mission of Amistad America is to teach the important lessons of history inherent in the Amistad incident of 1839. Amistad serves as an enduring symbol of unity and the human struggle for freedom. In shedding light on the facts of our collective history and the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, Amistad America provides a peaceful means by which individuals and communities can learn together and address the issues of racism and intolerance with a positive goal of building bridges of mutual respect and understanding.

     The modern Amistad is not an exact replica of the original La Amistad. The designers of Freedom Schooner Amistad, Tri-Coastal Marine, of Richmond California, used modern computer technology to recreate a new vessel, following the general plan of “Baltimore Clippers”, ships unique for the period both in design and proportion. The new Amistad is slightly larger than the original La Amistad of 1839. The extra 10 feet of length was built into the ship to accommodate an engine room. The recreated schooner conforms to late 20th century specifications and U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements for passenger-carrying vessels.

     After four years of designing, on March 8, 1998, Amistad America, Inc., and Mystic Seaport Museum laid the Amistad’s keel in a moving international celebration. The construction of the schooner was conducted in the Museum’s Restoration Shipyard using traditional skills and techniques common to wooden ships built in the 19th century. Some of the tools used in the project were the same as those that might have been used by a 19th century shipwright: bronze bolts are used as fastenings throughout the ship to join the prime quality timber.  Deck planks were cut out from the iroko trees donated by Sierra Leone – the homeland of the original Amistad captives of 1839. The construction took two years – on March 25, 2000 the Freedom Schooner Amistad was launched , with 10,000 people in attendance. On June 13, 2000 the recreated Amistad sailed for the first time.

     The Freedom Schooner Amistad transformed a ship of enslavement to a symbol of hope and monument to the pursuit of universal human freedom. Today, the replica sails the world as a continuation of that symbol and as a floating classroom, reaching thousands of people every year.

Amistad’s international voyages began in 2005 with visiting Bermuda, followed by the 2007 Atlantic Freedom Tour – a 14,000 miles, year long, epic voyage retracing the infamous Atlantic Slave Trade Triangle.  The schooner visited Canada, Azores, UK, Portugal, Canary Islands, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde and Barbados before landing back in USA.

     In 2010 the Freedom Schooner Amistad completed its second international tour visiting Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic and an internationally covered “homecoming” to Havana, Cuba.This high-profile public diplomacy initiative involved direct involvement of the United Nations, the US State Department and the Cuban government.

     After suffering a major rig failure and 2 years of stationary programming at the Mystic Seaport-the Freedom Schooner Amistad set sail in June of 2012 touring Connecticut and Canada before heading to the Caribbean for on board educational programming with high school students. In summer of 2013 the Freedom Schooner Amistad joined the fight against modern day human trafficking in partnership with LOVE146. Visitors who come aboard continue to learn the incredible story of the Amistad Incident of 1839 and now also become aware of how slavery still exists today. They are given tools to become modern day abolitionist. Amistad America is currently planning a 2014 East Coast tour and Connecticut Summer Program schedule.

“Follow the voyage & Join the movement” http://www.amistadcommitteeinc.org/

Summary of the Amistad Case  

The Spanish schooner Amisted, on the 27th day of June, 1839, cleared out from Havana, in Cuba, for Puerto Principe, in the same island, having on board, Captain Ferrer, and Ruiz and Montez, spanish subjects. Captain Ferrer had on board Antonio, a slave; Ruiz had forty-nine negroes; Montez had four negroes, which were claimed by them as slaves, and stated to be their property, in passports or documents, signed by the Governor General of Cuba. In fact, these African negroes had been, a very short time before they were put on board the Amistad, brought into Cuba, by Spanish slave traders, in direct contravention of the treaties between Spain and Great Britain, and in violation of the laws of Spain. …
Justice Joseph Story, author of the Supreme Court opinion in the Amistad case http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/amistad/AMISTD.HTM

Photograph: Reparations

Amistad (1997) – Steven Spielberg Movie About a 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship that is traveling towards the northeastern coast of America. Much of the story involves a court-room drama about the free man who led the revolt. Amistad http://www.youtube.com/reparationlaw/

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