History sails into harbor aboard the Amistad

With ship replica, lessons on the slave trade come to life

October 11, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

A replica of La Amistad docked at the Inner Harbor yesterday as part of an 18-month voyage that retraced the history of the original ship and the slave trade on the Atlantic Ocean.

Several speakers, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, extolled the historical importance of the original ship, while a large crowd of middle- and high-school students looked on from the dock. In 1839, the 53 slaves on the ship, which was transporting them between ports in Cuba, revolted and took control, and eventually guided the ship to New York, where it was captured by the U.S. Navy.

"We felt it was really important for them to see this," said April Ryan, a language arts teacher at Highlandtown Elementary-Middle School, who had escorted 24 students to the Inner Harbor. "We wanted them to see firsthand our history."

The ship, which is open for touring, is operated by the nonprofit Amistad America. It started its "Atlantic Freedom" tour in June 2007 and has visited about 20 ports. It is a modern replica of the two-masted, 120-foot-long schooner that was mostly used for transporting food, but had been ferrying slaves between Cuban ports when they revolted.

The Africans didn't win their freedom until two years later, when the Supreme Court decided that they were illegally held as slaves. The importation of slaves had been abolished in the United States in 1808.

"Two hundred years later, we stand today to emphasize how important it is that we remain vigilant in the defense of liberty and freedom, in this country and around the world," Cummings said. "Racial injustice is a disease that still threatens us to this very day."

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