Amistad Replica Helps Understand Slave Trade Revolt
By Neil S. Friedman
The Freedom Schooner Amistad departed Canarsie Pier early Monday morning after being anchored there from September 11-15 as part of its 2002 Friendship Tour. Local residents and several area schools took advantage of the visit by touring the replica to learn about its namesakes’ participation in the transatlantic slave trade, one of the disgraceful periods in American history in which millions of Africans were lost.
As part of its current tour, for the first time an African native-born resident is serving as a volunteer crewmember aboard the Amistad. His arrival is important in the context of the historical connection between Sierra Leone and The Amistad incident of 1839. New crew member John Kamara joins eleven officers and fellow crew participating in the tour that will visit a dozen ports in the Gulf Coast and Great Lakes this year and next.
Kamara’s participation opens the door to future collaborations of this nature with the Republic of Sierra Leone. It is anticipated that Kamara will be the first of many West Africans to join the crew aboard the Freedom Schooner in the years to come.
Kamara, 30, has lived all of his life in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He learned about The Amistad incident as a student and from his grandfather, and he learned about the recreated Amistad from Quentin Snediker, project director for the construction of the Freedom Schooner. In 1998 Sierra Leone’s President Kabbah and his people made a generous gift in support of the construction of Schooner Amistad in the form of Iroko tress. That year, a U.S. delegation organized by The Amistad Committee, revisited Sierra Leone to commemorate the replanting of 100 Iroko trees and to dedicate the site. Kamara was captain of the vessel that carried members of the delegation on a tour of Bunce Island. Bunce Island was once a slave export center near Freetown. This was the first time Kamara said that he heard about the recreated Freedom Schooner Amistad and its mission.
Kamara has training in marine safety, navigation and seamanship. He has experience in marine mechanics and as an operator of small boats. The perspective he brings to Freedom Schooner Amistad will greatly enhance the educational programming aboard the ship where all crew serve as educators.
In an interview with the Canarsie Courier last week, Kamara who serves aboard the Amistad as a deck educator, said, "I am proud and happy to a part of this wonderful project. It’s an honor to help educate those who visit about the original ship’s history."
The schooner’s captain, John Pinkney, 67, whose been a mariner for over 42 years and is the only black man to have sailed around the worlds solo via Cape Horn, remarked, "This is the culmination of an exciting career. This schooner is a symbol of the majesty of the human spirit where the efforts of a few demonstrated that the justice system sometimes works."
Freedom Schooner Amistad was conceived, built, and launched to celebrate the legacy of The Amistad Incident by serving as a maritime ambassador for racial reconciliation and human rights education and to foster cooperation and unity among people of diverse backgrounds. The recreated vessel is the realization of the belief that people can come together in the spirit of brotherhood and understanding-and it represents the dedication and conviction of the men, women and children, black and white, who gave The Amistad Incident its meaning.
The Amistad Incident of 1839, which was dramatized by Steven Spielberg in the film, "Amistad," is an international story rooted in Connecticut’s history, and it is the first human rights case argued and won on behalf of Africans in the American court system.
In 1839, 53 Africans — 49 men and four children —were illegally kidnapped from West Africa in the region now known as Sierra Leone, and sold into slavery. The Africans were transported to Cuba, where they were fraudulently classified as native Cuban-born slaves. Spaniards, Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, who transferred the captives to the coastal cargo schooner, L’Amistad for transport to another part of the island, illegally purchased them.
Three days into the journey, a 25-year-old rice farmer named Sengbe Pieh or "Cinque" to his Spanish captors, led a revolt. After 63 days, L’ Amistad and her African "cargo" were seized as salvage by the United States Naval Revenue Cutter USS Washington near Montauk Point, Long Island, and towed to Connecticut’s New London harbor. The Africans were held in a New Haven jail on murder charges. The case took on historic proportions when former President John Quincy Adams argued successfully on behalf of the captives before the United States Supreme Court. In 1841 the 35 surviving Africans were returned to Africa.