Back to Africa Update

The 16th Amistad Keynote Address


Vol. XXVI, Issue 2 (Spring 2019):

16th Annual Lecture on the Amistad, Central Connecticut State University





16th Annual Lecture on the AMISTAD -                                        

"The Amistad: Diasporic Encounters in the Black World"


Professor Nemata Blyden

Associate Professor of History

George Washington University

Washington D.C.



I want to thank the Amistad committee for inviting me to speak on this 180th anniversary of the Amistad rebellion. It is indeed remarkable that almost two centuries after the brave act of 53  African captives  on board a slave ship, we still remember their determination and quest for freedom at all costs. But we must also remember the struggles of the millions of  African descendants who preceded the rebellion, and those who fought in its wake.


“All we want is make us free.”[i] Eleven year old Kale, a young boy, wrote these words to President John Quincy Adams on behalf of the African captives of the Amistad. These words and feelings of a child expressively convey the quest for freedom that the Amistad story represents – “All we want is make us free.” Variations of these words, and the sentiments behind them, have been used by men and women of African descent for more than four hundred years. As they jumped off slave ships, escaped from slave barracoons and plantations, demanded rights in colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, struggled for equality in cities across the United States, and proclaimed that Black Lives Matter, what they were trying to communicate was – “All we want is to make us free.”


Most of us are at least aware of how the story unfolds. In 1839, captured Africans on board a Spanish ship destined for Cuba revolted, killing the ship’s captain. The leader of the revolt (Cinque/Sengbe Pieh), a Mende from Sierra Leone, attempted to have the ship sailed back to his homeland. The ship drifted off the coast of New York, where it was impounded, and its occupants arrested in Connecticut. In the ensuing year, a landmark court battle was waged, resulting in the Africans being declared free by the United States Supreme Court in March 1841. In 1842 35 of the captives sailed back to Africa.


The rebellion aboard the ship Amistad was a part of what one historian has called a “massive Atlantic wave of resistance to slavery”[ii] But it was much more than that. Coming in the wake of cries for liberation in the 1830s – Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831, Denmark Vesey’s aborted insurrection in 1832, and the organization of the Underground Railroad, the Amistad revolt was not the first, or the last, instance of men and women asserting their freedom. Yet the rebellion has retained a place in the diasporic imagination, conjured up by people of African descent through the centuries. While Black men and women in the years following the revolt might not have mentioned it by name, they articulated the same notions of liberation that prompted men, women, and children aboard the ship to rise up and force their enslavers to return them to their native land. Over the centuries, the story of the Amistad rebels and their successful suit for freedom has, evoked different feelings in African descended people who have invoked it to communicate their desire for freedom, for justice, and for equality.


The Amistad revolt, and its aftermath, has been the subject of countless imagery -books, plays, pamphlets, children’s stories, and films. Images and representations of the event abound online. Today, I want to talk about the Amistad in terms of diasporic encounters, and how it was used by men and women of African descent in the Atlantic world in their pursuit of justice and common cause. I am thinking of “diasporic encounters” in terms of how Blacks in the Diaspora and in Africa have engaged each other over the centuries, creating solidarity, and sustaining historical, political, and cultural ties at different moments in history. Diasporic encounters and connections occurred over the centuries as men and women of African descent crossed the Atlantic in various directions. Yet these encounters were not always physical. The encounters between Africans in Diaspora and Africa were also articulated in the imagination.


I want to use the Amistad case as a connecting point to talk about these encounters and engagements between the continent and its sons and daughters in the Americas. The slave trade and enslavement, emancipation and ideas of freedom, justice and equality, and mobility and migration are at the heart of these encounters. What political, intellectual, and cultural exchanges took place among, and between, African descended people in the Atlantic world? And why? We often focus on encounters of the late 19th and early 20th century generated by the Pan African movement and decolonization, but interactions between Africa and its diaspora have persisted in various guises since Africans were enslaved and brought to the Western Hemisphere. On the continent Africans made their first diasporic encounters with those who languished in slave forts on the coast, below the decks of slave ships on the Atlantic, and in slave pens in the Americas. In these spaces they slowly began to think of themselves as having a common cause and destiny. Enslaved Africans continued to engage with their African homeland through the memories they carried with them – their religions, languages, cuisine, music, and remembrance of loved ones left behind. We know much about these persistent ties between African descended populations in the Americas with Africa, as they recognized and accepted the continent as part of their past.


I would like to say a little about these diasporic encounters between African Americans in Africa, and Africans in America. The Amistad case is a shared part of the heritage of African descended populations in the Americas and in Africa, allowing Black Americans to keep Africa in their consciousness. In the aftermath of the successful shipboard revolt, news of the Amistad rebellion circulated among people of African descent, inspiring enslaved Africans to claim their freedom. In November 1841, the year the Amistad captives were declared free, enslaved Africans aboard the ship Creole, sailing from Virginia to New Orleans revolted, forcing the captain and crew to take them to Nassau, Bahamas, where they were eventually freed by British authorities. In that year, Frederick Douglass was hired by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society as a full-time lecturer. It is clear that the high profile case of the Amistad, turned the tide with respect to attitudes toward slavery and the slave trade. It mobilized a flagging abolitionist movement, gave enslaved Africans the courage to resist their condition, and engendered conversations about human rights, and Black liberation.


While the Amistad captives were on trial Black Americans, several generations removed from their African homeland, drew parallels between themselves and the captives, linking the events in Connecticut to the larger institution of slavery and its ramifications. Many used the spirit of the Amistad, and the story of its captives, to assert themselves in the United States. Black Americans, as they recognized the implications of its outcome, followed the trial with eagerness, wondering what it might mean for slavery in their country. The Black press covered the trial extensively, and frequent letters to the editor regarding the case were published. The Colored American, edited by Samuel Cornish and James McCune Smith, two prominent African Americans, reported on meetings held at churches and other Black institutions to discuss the Amistad case. In January 1841 the newspaper published a letter of gratitude from the abolitionist Lewis Tappan, acknowledging “receipt of ninety dollars from the Colored citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, for the Africans taken in the Amistad.”[iii] In April of that year the newspaper recorded “A meeting of Congratulation” held by the Black citizens of Buffalo, New York for the “purpose of expressing their gratitude for the liberation of the Amistad captives.” The meeting hall, it recorded, was “filled to an overflow,” as the African Americans celebrated. The gathering celebrated the “intrepid act of Joseph Cinque, who preferred death rather than slavery,” and concluded by adopting several resolutions and saying prayers for the “liberation of the Amistad captives, and the enslaved throughout the civilized world.”[iv]Similar fundraising and celebratory events were held in Black churches all over northern cities. The many speeches and resolutions linked the plight of African Americans and Africans, and the efforts of those who contributed their hard earned money to the cause of the captives allowed them to return to their native land. The congregants of Talcott Street Church in Hartford, for example, donated nine dollars to the cause, an amount, which one historian has maintained “may have been a greater portion of their collective income than any other church,” tapped for donations. [v]In November 1841 the Amistad captives set sail for the British colony of Sierra Leone.


In the 18th and 19th century, the “Back to Africa” movement occasioned a different kind of diasporic encounter as many from the Americas made a “reverse migration” to places like Sierra Leone and Liberia. Africans in diaspora connected with Africa, believing they had much to offer the continent. They spoke of their duty to Africa, espoused ideas of “providential design,” and took on the role of spokesmen and women for the continent. Sierra Leone with its multiethnic character in the nineteenth century was an illustration of the possibilities for diasporic encounters between Africans and African descended people in the Atlantic world. Indigenous Africans, lived alongside Liberated Africans freed from slave ships, and men and women from the Caribbean and the Americas who sought a better life in the colony. African Americans and West Indians from across the Atlantic brought their experiences to bear on the fledgling colony governed by the British.


Sierra Leone was a small colony characterized by its diversity and multiplicity of African descended people. Its origins were closely tied to British antislavery efforts, and its early history was characterized by the determination of men and women, once enslaved, to assert their liberty. A little known fact is that is when Cinque and his compatriots arrived in Sierra Leone in January of 1842, the governor of the colony was a Black man. William Fergusson, born on the island of Jamaica, had come to Sierra Leone as a doctor in 1814. In 1841 he was appointed to serve as Acting Governor of the colony. In December of that year Fergusson was contacted by antislavery proponents in the United States for the safe reception of the Amistad survivors in Sierra Leone. Strongly opposed to the slave trade and slavery, Fergusson assured the captives’ American benefactors that when they returned to Sierra Leone they would be “cordially received, adequately maintained, and provided for.” He promised them safety from the threat of

re-enslavement, and a safe passage back to their homes. Alongside Fergusson, two other Black men from the Caribbean held important positions in the colony – Robert Dougan, serving as Queen’s Advocate, and the Trinidadian John Carr, Chief Justice in the colony. Dougan had been in Sierra Leone since the early 1820s, while Carr was appointed in 1840. We can well imagine that Cinque and his compatriots felt a greater sense of security knowing that the men who governed the colony, and were responsible for their legal protection, were of African descent.


Also in the colony when they landed were Edward Jones and Daniel Coker, African Americans who had settled in Sierra Leone. Jones, born in Charleston, South Carolina, was the first Black graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts, graduating in 1826. He arrived in Sierra Leone in the 1830s, serving as a teacher and missionary, and working tirelessly on behalf of Africans. As the Amistad case was coming to a close in the United States, Edwards Jones was answering questions in front of a parliamentary committee, urging the British government to encourage African agency in their own affairs. He would later become the first Black principal of the first institution of higher learning in Sierra Leone - Fourah Bay College. Daniel Coker was born Isaac Wright, in Maryland. In 1816, along with Richard Allen, Coker founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Baltimore, Maryland. Faced with discrimination and, believing that Blacks had little chance of achieving equality in the United States, he accompanied the first group of settlers bound for what would become Liberia in 1820. He wrote of his desire to proselytize among Africans, and prayed that he would “be true to my trust, and to act for the good of my African brethren in all things. I feel a great responsibility to rest upon me”.[vi] Upon arrival he exclaimed “Thank the Lord I have seen Africa.” [vii] Writing back to friends in the United States he spoke of his connection to the continent: “[M]y soul cleaves to Africa,” he extolled, “it is a good land. It is a rich land.” Coker remained in Sierra Leone where he worked as an educator until his death.[viii]


The desire to work on behalf of Africans characterized the Christian zeal of African American missionaries, who engaged in another kind of diasporic connection with Africans. The establishment of the United Brethren in Christ missions in Sierra Leone was another consequence of the Amistad rebellion. However, we may feel about that endeavor today, and understanding that missionaries were often implicated in the colonial enterprise, many men and women of African descent took on the mantle of Africa’s uplift, serving as missionaries in Africa. United Brethren missionaries, Joseph and Mary Gomer arrived in Sierra Leone from Ohio in 1870 and stayed for twenty-two years. [ix] They took their obligation to Africa seriously, working tirelessly in the community, and were known to have good relationships with local African leaders. Writing home in 1886 Joseph wrote: “We love Africa and we love the work,” - a sentiment expressed by other African descended individuals over the centuries.[x] This was the world to which the survivors of the Amistad returned, and while most of them disappear from the historical record (including Cinque), their ordeal would be raised up as examples of men and women who would rather die than give up their freedom. African Americans, in particular, recognized the effectiveness of emphasizing this historical event.


Years after the trial ended, the captives’ actions would be cited by African descended men and women in their quest for liberation. Luminaries of African American history drew attention to the Amistad case to condemn slavery, call for African American liberation, and underscore Black achievement. In 1843, Henry Highland Garnet, the outspoken Black abolitionist, and founder of the African Civilization Society, spoke of “ the immortal Joseph Cinque, the hero of the Amistad. He was a native African, and by the help of God he emancipated a whole ship load of his fellow men on the high seas. And he now sings of liberty on the sunny hills of Africa and beneath his native palm trees, where he hears the lion roar and feels himself as free as that king of the forest.”[xi] In 1859, the Frederick Douglass Newspaper covered a meeting of the African Civilization Society, held at Shiloh Presbyterian Church. The Society whose motto was “No man should deprive me of my love for Africa, the land of my ancestors,” unmistakably pronounced its relationship to Africa. To an audience of Black Americans and Africans from the continent, the church’s pastor, Reverend J.B. Smith, called on Black Americans to condemn the recently passed Dred Scott decision, denying African Americans citizenship rights. Smith called for Black unity and for African Americans, “to love Africa, and honor it.” Also present was James W. Pennington, who recalling his activism during the trial of the Amistad Captives, remarked that he was “glad to see Colored men interested for Africa.” James Pennington was to a great extent a son of Connecticut. Born enslaved in Maryland he escaped North, becoming an ordained minister, an outspoken critic of slavery and champion of Black voting rights. In Hartford he pastored the Talcott Street Church (now Faith Congregational). He was involved in the abolitionist movement, and organized efforts to help the Amistad captives, raising money and awareness. Pennington was instrumental in the establishment of the American Missionary Association, whose members accompanied the captives back to Sierra Leone, and which would later merge with the United Brethren church under whom the Gomers served. In 1840 Pennington was elected President of the Connecticut Anti-Slavery Society. He continued advocating for the rights of people of African descent until his death. The diasporic connections he created with the captives of the Amistad were instrumental in his understanding of his ties to Africa. Sixty years after the rebellion the Cleveland Gazette would, once again, place his name alongside Cinque’s in an article that listed both as men “who had made history.” [xii]The opinions espoused by Pennington, Smith, and Garnet continued to influence men and women in the African diaspora to speak out against slavery, take pride in their African ancestry, and work on behalf of the continent and its people. Many heeded that call.


One such person was the Pan Africanist Edward Wilmot Blyden. In the nineteenth century my great grandfather left his birthplace in the Danish Virgin Islands to settle in Liberia. Edward was 7 years old when Cinque and his compatriots took over the ship. While eleven-year-old Kale sat in a Connecticut cell, young Blyden was training to follow in his father’s footsteps as a tailor. John Knox, an American minister on the island, saw potential in the bright precocious, boy whose keen mind and facility for languages set him apart. In 1850 Knox arranged for 18-year-old to attend Rutgers Theological Seminary, but he was denied admission because of his race. In 1850 the Fugitives Slave Act was passed, requiring Northerners to return men and women escaping slavery, and claiming their freedom. Fearful of the possibility of being enslaved, Blyden took the opportunity offered to African Americans to go to the colony of Liberia founded in 1820. There the boy destined to be a tailor thrived and finished his studies. He was instrumental in founding Liberia College, and later served as its president, represented Liberia as Secretary of State, Minister of the Interior, and was the country’s ambassador to the court of St. James in Britain. Throughout his life Blyden championed the cause of African descended people. He made early, if not the first, use of the concept of an “African personality,” and encouraged racial pride. “The African,” he wrote, ‘must advance by methods of his own.”[xiii] While, to my knowledge, he did not refer to the rebellion by name, Blyden was well aware of the devastating effects of the slave trade which the Amistad captives had resisted. He described the feelings of insecurity, and fear of enslavement produced in Africans, as they fled their homes in attempts to escape slave hunters: “Shall we here tell you of the sufferings which the slave-trade has entailed upon them? Shall we tell you of their sorrows in the countries of their captivity? Oh! We would not harrow up the feelings of this audience with tales of woe. We would but refer to slavery and the slave-trade. Those names alone are sufficient to call up emotions of sympathy wherever there exist the feelings of humanity.” He pointed to the adverse consequences of racism on the psyche of Black people, and urged them to “discountenance, as much as possible, this servile feeling, and to use every means to crush it wherever it appears, for its influence on the mind and morals and general progress of the race is fearfully injurious.” [xiv] Responding to depictions of Africans as intellectually inferior Blyden drew attention to the achievements of African Americans, naming Henry Highland Garnet, whose eulogy he read when he died, Frederick Douglass, Daniel Payne, Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the physician and abolitionist, James McCune Smith, and Frances Watkins, who he called “the poetic genius, of Baltimore.”


Francis Ellen Watkins Harper was a fervent abolitionist who witnessed the consequences of slavery in her native Maryland, and vowed to fight against it. She was fourteen in 1839 when the Africans aboard the Amistad revolted. In that year she published her first poem in an abolitionist publication, and we might wonder whether she too followed coverage of the trial. In poems such as “Bible Defense of Slavery,” “The Slave Mother,” and “The Slave Auction,” she condemned those who participated in the enslavement of Africans. “The Slave Mother” she portrays might have been young Kale’s: “She is a mother pale with fear, Her boy clings to her side,.   . . They tear him from her circling arms, Her last and fond embrace. Oh! never more may her sad eyes Gaze on his mournful face. .   .   . She is a mother, and her heart Is breaking in despair.” The “Slave Auction,” describes the moment when men, women and children were sold: “And mothers stood, with streaming eyes, And saw their dearest children sold; Unheeded rose their bitter cries, While tyrants bartered them for gold.” The poem, Ethiopia called for the emancipation of African descended people, while Bury me in a Free Land, articulated the desire of millions of enslaved Africans to achieve freedom in death: “Make me a grave where’er you will.   .   . But not in a land where men are slaves. I could not rest if around my grave I heard the steps of a trembling slave. .   .   . I could not rest if I heard the tread. Of a coffle gang to the shambles led, And the mother’s shriek of wild despair.” Just as the Amistad captives had voiced a wish to die rather than be enslaved, Watkins wrote: “My rest shall be calm in any grave. Where none can call his brother a slave. I ask no monument, proud and high, To arrest the gaze of the passers-by; All that my yearning spirit craves, Is bury me not in a land of slaves.” This pursuit of liberty, so heartrendingly communicated, is a lasting legacy of the Amistad captives - one taken up by African descended people for centuries after. The Amistad would continue to live on in the memory and imagination of Black people.


In 1939, to celebrate the centenary of the rebellion, a mural painted by African American artist Hale Woodruff was dedicated at Talladega, a historically Black college in Alabama. The three panels representing “The revolt,” “The Court Scene,” and “Back to Africa” show in beautiful bold colors the struggles and triumph of the Africans. Likewise, in the 1960s the Amistad Society, a committee on Black history and culture in Chicago, sponsored Black history workshops for African Americans. Participants at these meetings read books and articles on the Black experience. The Society’s intent was to educate African Americans about the history they had not been taught, and to combat, what the paper reported was the “lack of a proper consideration of the role of the Negro in American history.’” [xv] The many workshops organized by the group tackled topics such as “Heritage: The African Background,” as well as lectures on the topic of Pan Africanism and the “African personality.” In October 1963 the Society sponsored a panel discussion entitled “Relationships: Africa and the American Negro.” The panelists were Malcolm X, Homer Smith, a journalist, and Chimere Ikoku, president of the Pan-African Students Organization in the Americas. [xvi]


This pursuit of knowledge is a lasting legacy, and the Amistad story has been used in concrete and constructive ways to promote an agenda for inclusion, Black liberation, and new diasporic encounters. Contemporary attempts to use the legacy of the Amistad rebellion for positive change and inclusion remind us of what the struggle for freedom, can engender. In 2002 two African American legislators from New Jersey sponsored legislation to include and integrate African American history in New Jersey school curriculums. The Amistad Bill became law, and an Amistad Commission was established to make sure the contributions and history of African-Americans are comprehensively taught in New Jersey classrooms. Likewise, in 2005 Illinois established an Amistad Commission to “promote education and awareness of slavery and the African slave trade.” The act boldly states: “It is the policy of the State of Illinois that the history of the African slave trade, slavery in America, the depth of their impact in our society, and the triumphs of African-Americans and their significant contributions to the development of this country is the proper concern of all people, particularly students enrolled in the schools of the State of Illinois.”[xvii] (I might extrapolate here and point out that Illinois is Barack Obama’s home state.)


Today, a search for the Amistad on the Internet generates references to art work, centers, films and documentaries, programs, archives, legislation, and even annual lecture series named after the events of 1839. The Amistad Research Center in Louisiana houses one of the largest collections of documents on the Black experience, while the Amistad Center for Art and Culture, here in Hartford, showcases the art and history of African Americans. Here at CCSU this annual Amistad lecture, established in 2003, is “to preserve and protect the history and legacy of the Amistad; honor the experience of the captives aboard the Amistad; and relate the events to the universal aspirations for human dignity and freedom.” [xviii]  This major historical event continues to be a source of pride for African descended people in the Atlantic world. For Sierra Leoneans, at home and in diaspora, particularly the United States, stressing their connection to the case has been fruitful. The Amistad story, popularized by Stephen Spielberg’s movie, led to Sierra Leonean involvement in projects promoting their country’s history, and linking it to the events of the 1840s. Some were part of the Amistad Research project that led to the erection of a monument in New Haven. Sierra Leonean immigrants in the United States organized events surrounding the recreation of the schooner, and were part of the celebration when it finally sailed with an African American captain in 2000. The captives were largely Mende, but all Sierra Leoneans lay claim to the history. African Americans too have claimed the Amistad. In 2008 the African American actor, Isaiah Washington, having been linked by DNA tests to Sierra Leone, wrote of his pride in his African ancestry: “But the thing that interested me the most,” he wrote, “was Sengbe Pieh, or ‘Joseph Cinque’ — the Mende leader that lead the revolt on the slave ship, Le Amistad. I said, ‘Wow! This guy is one of my ancestors! What now?’ My answer? I decided to go see the country and Sengbe Pieh’s people, my people, for myself.”[xix] Washington visited Sierra Leone and subsequently established a foundation to aid in Sierra Leone’s development. Others continue to invoke the Amistad to call for justice, equality, and a recognition of their humanity and human rights.


I want to conclude by ruminating on those aspirations. On how we can think about the Amistad and diasporic encounters today. The sacrifices of the Amistad captives, and those who struggled for Black liberation have largely paid off. African descended people have made great strides in the almost two hundred years since the revolt. African Americans have moved into the twenty-first century with many of the same struggles they have lived with since 1839, but have also made tremendous progress in attaining citizenship and independence. Yet, arguably, they have not achieved full acceptance and equality in the country to which their ancestors were forcibly brought. In recent years, high-profile cases of aggression toward Black citizens have resulted in diasporic encounters of another kind. Shocked and outraged, African descended people have organized in protest movements, condemning the treatment of Blacks regardless of where they are in the world. The three women who founded the Black Lives Matter movement explained: “We see ourselves as part of the global Black family, and we are aware of the different ways we are impacted or privileged as Black people who exist in different parts of the world.” African immigrants in the United States have been part of this activism, as have other immigrants of color. In a country still troubled with racial issues, and where people of African ancestry are economically disadvantaged, and constructed in negative ways, diasporic encounters are taking place on American soil, as African descended people engage with each other, creating and sustaining, historical and political ties.


Historically the diasporan gaze looks to Africa during moments of anxiety, political exclusion, and constraints on civil liberties in the American homeland - segregation, discriminatory laws, violence. Are we in such a moment? There is certainly evidence of increased racial profiling, micro aggressions and, what one newspaper report on the profiling of an African graduate student at a University in this very state, has characterized as “persistent racial divisions in the US.”[xx] As the population of African descended people in America becomes more diverse, conversations about who can claim an African American identity are going on. I fear this is a distraction. In 1839, Black men and women in the United States recognized their commonality and shared aims with the Amistad captives, and their activism was largely responsible for the Africans’ freedom. When Kinna, one of the captives, spoke to an African American church exclaiming, “you are my brethren, the same color as myself,” he recognized that what united them was what they looked like – their “Blackness.” African descended people have seen the value of these diasporic encounters. What, for example, accounts for the overwhelming response to the Black Panther movie in 2018, and its tremendous reception by African descended populations? The many pictures on social media showing Blacks in the United States wearing dashiki, Kente, Ankara, and other imagined African clothes to screenings of the film, is testament to the fact that diasporic connections, while they may lay dormant, are ready to resurface. African American desire for ties with Africa may have waned with the end of segregation, the gains of the civil rights movement, and greater integration of Black Americans in the United States, but the connection to the continent remains.


Diasporan encounters, have in our age, taken on an urgency reminiscent of an era when men and women of African descent had little or no rights. Why, in the wake of the election of the country’s first Black President, which to many signaled full integration, do we have a hugely successful movie that stoked Black American pride in Africa, prompting inquiries, not all in jest, about how to get to Wakanda.

Perhaps the film’s release coincided with a larger despair about the promise of America. Perhaps the fictional Wakanda symbolized a world of equality and freedom that many feel have eluded them. Perhaps it promised a safe haven from violence. Perhaps it represented a “free land to be buried.” In one of the film’s final scenes, the African American Killmonger, dying in the hands of his African brother, Tchalla, pleads with his last breath: “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ship. Because they knew death was better than bondage.” But the men, women, and children aboard the Amistad did not jump from the ship. They captured it. They believed that life was better than death, and that liberty was better than bondage. They chose, instead, to fight for freedom, leaving that legacy for successive generations of African descended people. That yearning still beats in the hearts of their descendants today – the longing so desperately conveyed in the words of a child – “All we want is make us free.”


1.  Letter from Kale to John Quincy Adams , Jan. 4, 1841

2. Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom

3.  Colored American, January 2, 1841.

4.  Colored American, April 17, 1841

5. Marcus Rediker, The Amistad Rebellion, p. 206.

6.  Coker, D. (1820). Journal of Daniel Coker, a descendant of Africa, from the time of leaving New York, in the ship Elizabeth, Capt. Sebor, on a voyage for Sherbro, in Africa, in company with three agents, and about ninety persons of colour.: The Rev. Samuel Bacon, John B. Bankson, Samuel S. Crozer. Agents.: With an appendix. Baltimore: Published by Edward J. Coale, in aid of the funds of the Maryland Auxiliary Colonization Society. 1820. John D. Toy, printer., p. 17

7. Coker, D. (1820). Journal of Daniel Coker, a descendant of Africa, from the time of leaving New York, in the ship Elizabeth, Capt. Sebor, on a voyage for Sherbro, in Africa, in company with three agents, and about ninety persons of colour.: The Rev. Samuel Bacon, John B. Bankson, Samuel S. Crozer. Agents.: With an appendix. Baltimore: Published by Edward J. Coale, in aid of the funds of the Maryland Auxiliary Colonization Society. 1820. John D. Toy, printer., p. 22.

8.  See Blyden, “Edward Jones: An African American in Sierra Leone” and Debra Newman Ham entry in Paul Finkelman, Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619-1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 308-310.

9.  Almost single-handedly, they turned imminent failure into great success.” Darrell Reeck, The Spirit of Amistad:

10. O’Malley in "Exploring Christian Mission Beyond Christendom: United Methodist Perspectives" edited by Michael G. Cartwright.

11.  Henry Highland Garnet. (1843). "An Address To The Slaves Of The United States."

12. “Bruce Contends,” Cleveland Gazette, April 15, 1899.

13.  Edward Blyden, Aims and Method s of a Liberal education, 1881.

14.  Edward Blyden, Liberia’s offering p. 17.

15. “Amistad Society Sets Workshop On Negro History,” Chicago Defender, April 25, 1963.

16.  “Malcolm X to join panel talk on ties between Africa, U. S. negro, Chicago Defender, October 2, 1963.



18. Amistad Lecture Considers Reparatory Justice Movement,

19. DNA Has Memory: We Are Who We Were

20.  P. R. Lockhart, “White people keep calling the cops on Black people for no reason. That’s dangerous. Calling 911 means different things to White and Black people.” May 11, 2018.


































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