A scene where Cinque sees African violets in John Quincy Adams' greenhouse and is seized with homesickness. Judge Constance Baker Motley has called the Supreme Court’s Amistad decision “the first legal milestone in the long, difficult struggle in the courts by persons of color for equal justice under law.”. Examining a historical movie for accuracy allows educators to get creative. Twenty-two years after the Amistad case, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring slaves in the South free. Incongruous as it may seem, it was perfectly possible in the nineteenth century to condemn the importation of slaves from Africa while simultaneously defending slavery and the flourishing slave trade within the United States. “Cinque and Grabeau shall not sigh for Africa in vain. The moral hair-splitting underlying that distinction is truly depraved, but on it depends the defense of Cinque, the leader of the Africans, and his fellow mutineers. Three moons from Africa to Havana;  ten nights in Havana. Filed Under: Article, Connecticut history, History from below, Social Movements. “Barracks were erected and here the former captives made their home. They pointed out that slavery was legal in Cuba, and that the Amistad’s papers showed that the blacks were legally the property of Ruiz and Montes. They found sugar cane knives and stormed the deck. At the Supreme Court, he makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release, and is successful. They also developed a dense and evolving set of relations with the Yankee world into which they had been plunged. Hundreds of spectators crowded the trial, which lasted a week. At an abolitionist meeting to celebrate, Lewis Tappan pointed out the connection between the Amistad case and the abolition of slavery. The Race Relations Institute it set up at Fisk University trained many of the civil rights leaders of the 1960s. The mutineers spare the lives of two Spanish navigators to help them sail the ship back to Africa. As they reached the coast of Sierra Leone, Cinque wrote Lewis Tappan of the Amistad Committee, “I thank all ‘American people, for they send Mendi people home. They sailed for two months, losing ten of the Africans from lack of food and water. But for the first time the United States Supreme Court asserted that people of color had the same rights as anybody else and that the courts must enforce them. It took prisoner the Africans who were in control of the ship, released two white Spaniards they were holding, and towed the ship to New London, Connecticut. What is most valuable about “Amistad” is the way it provides faces and names for its African characters, whom the movies so often make into faceless victims. A Connecticut Freedom Trail has been established to commemorate African American historical sites, with a strong emphasis on the Amistad story. In 1834 an anti-abolitionist crowd had ransacked his home and burned its furnishings. Lawyers for President Martin Van Buren strove to keep the courts from letting the Africans go free. [1] The lyrics from "Dry Your Tears, Afrika" are from a 1967 poem by French-speaking Ivorian poet Bernard Binlin Dadié. He asked for more water and was refused. For half a century I have been participating in and writing about social movements that address those problems. Baldwin argues that the Africans had been captured in British Sierra Leone to be sold in the Americas illegally. One of the astonishing facts revealed in Steven Spielberg's “Amistad” is that seven of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices in 1839 were slave-owning Southerners. Amistad is a 1997 American historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the true story of the events in 1839 aboard the slave ship La Amistad, during which Mende tribesmen abducted for the slave trade managed to gain control of their captors' ship off the coast of Cuba, and the international legal battle that followed their capture by the Washington, a U.S. revenue cutter. At a typical one, “The Africans read from the New Testament, by which they showed the success with which they had mastered our language, as well as the proficiency they had made in learning to read. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film received an approval rating of 77% based on reviews from 64 critics, with an average score of 6.9/10. After all the slaves are removed from the fortress, Fitzgerald orders the ship's cannon to destroy it. Slavery could, I suppose, be seen largely as a matter of laws and property--at least to those benefitting from it. What for Americans keep us in prison. A party of men in the night broke into her mother’s house and made them prisoners;  she never saw her mother or brother again.”, Grabeau described how hundreds of captives from all over the region were brought to the slave port of Lomboko. Both films are about the ways good men try to work realistically within an evil system to spare a few of its victims. Indeed, sixteen years after the Amistad decision, the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case declared that a Negro had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”  “They are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”  Only in the wake of the Civil War did the United States begin to implement the racial equality that the Amistad case had seemed to promise. Ruiz and Montes bought fifty-three of the captives and set sail in the Amistad for their plantations in another part of Cuba. “Slaves are put into a prison, two are chained together by the legs.”  A Portuguese slave trader bought five or six hundred Africans and loaded them onto the slave ship Tecora. Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Hounsou, and Matthew McConaughey had starring roles. Sarah Margru, one of the children from the Amistad, returned to Africa with the other Mendi, came back to the United States to study at Oberlin College, then went back to teach at the Mendi mission. This legal distinction is not made as clear as it could have been; the international slave trade had been outlawed by treaties by 1839, the year of the landmark Amistad incident, but those who were already slaves remained the property of their masters--as did their children. Baldwin proves through documents found hidden aboard La Amistad that the African people were initially cargo belonging to a Portuguese slave ship, the Tecora. As he spoke, he held in his hand the letter he had received from John Quincy Adams twenty-two years before telling him the results of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Amistad case: “The captives are free. Cinque and many others were then sold to the Tecora, where they were held in the brig of the ship. [2] Foner wrote: In fact, the Amistad case revolved around the Atlantic slave trade — by 1840 outlawed by international treaty — and had nothing whatsoever to do with slavery as a domestic institution. Despite refusing to help when the case was initially presented, Adams agrees to assist with the case. The film Amistad, by Steven Spielberg is a prime example of a historically accurate movie that has a glossy Hollywood coating to appeal to the public. Baldwin shows from the Tecora’s inventory that the number of African people taken as slaves was reduced by fifty. Anonymous. Gibbs brought Covey to meet the prisoners and serve as their interpreter. Foulewa recalled that the captives were told that a terrible fate lay ahead. He was determined to break the communication barrier with the Africans. Ambassador to the Netherlands, 1794–1797, President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, President, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Historical Society holdings, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Amistad_(film)&oldid=981195593, Films about Presidents of the United States, United States Declaration of Independence, Album articles lacking alt text for covers, Wikipedia articles with BIBSYS identifiers, Wikipedia articles with CANTIC identifiers, Wikipedia articles with WorldCat-VIAF identifiers, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, Steven Spielberg, Debbie Allen, Colin Wilson. Many of the men, women, and children died on the passage.”, The Africans were brought to Havana, in the Spanish colony of Cuba, and sold as slaves. They hoped that the Mendi would help set up a Christian mission in Sierra Leone. And there is a touching scene between lawyer and client in which Joadson at last talks to Cinque as a man and not as a piece in a puzzle. “Dear Friend Mr. Adams, Director Stephen Spielberg deserves credit for bringing to public attention what historians used to refer to dismissively as “the Amistad incident.”  It is the story of a group of Africans who were captured in Sierra Leone and brought in chains to the Americas — and who revolted, captured their ship, the Amistad, and eventually were seized off the coast of New England. In the past few years they have been represented not only in Spielberg’s movie but in plays, novels, and an opera. The “Amistad incident” played a significant role in the struggle against slavery. We can behold the faint glimmering of a more auspicious morn when the judges of our land will declare that property in man cannot be held.”, The Mendi greeted the news of the Supreme Court’s decision with joy. The purpose of this website is to share what I've learned. A United States Navy ship sighted her near Long Island and captured her. The film version of Adams' closing speech before the Supreme Court and the court's decision as read by Justice Joseph Story bear no resemblance to the much longer historical versions; they are not even fair summaries. We see his wife, and his village, and something of his life; we understand how cruelly he was ripped from his life and ambitions. The story of Cinque certainly deserves more attention in textbooks, but it is not an ideal story to make into a film; Nat Turner would have been a better choice for Spielberg. I hope it provides something of use to you in addressing our common problems. Three veteran abolitionists led the Amistad Committee. The abolitionists persuaded former President of the United States John Quincy Adams to help argue their case before the Supreme Court.

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