BALTIMORE- Dozens of schoolchildren and city officials joined Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in welcoming the Freedom Schooner Amistad to the Inner Harbor on Friday as part of a weekend tour.
“This is really about you,” Cummings said, to the audience of mostly children and youths.
The veteran congressman encouraged the students to take today’s events and have them “embedded in their DNA, in every cell of their brains.”
As a young boy, Cummings and his brother visited the harbor, which was 10 blocks away from their home. He “never dreamed” he would one day grow up to become a congressman, Cummings said.
While the ceremony honored the sacrifices and triumph of the slaves aboard the Amistad, Cummings noted the country is once again on the cusp of history, as citizens vote in a presidential election that features a major party candidate of color.
The ship serves as a reminder of how far the nation has come, but how far we still have to go, Cummings said.
After reflecting on Baltimore’s own history as a major port during the slave trade, Renee Samuels, director of the Mayor’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs, presented Capt. William Pinkney with an American flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, like the one that flew over Fort McHenry when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was written.
The ceremony was the culmination of the 2007-2008 Atlantic Freedom Tour, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of the 1808 abolition of the slave trade in Great Britain.
The replica of the original ship has traveled to places such as Nova Scotia, Lisbon, Portugal, and Connecticut, Pinkney said.
The Amistad was the site of an 1839 revolt in which slaves who had been captured from Sierra Leone fought their Spanish captors for their freedom during a three-day sea trip off the coast of Cuba, according to the Atlantic Freedom Tour’s official website.
The U.S. Navy and Customs service seized the ship off the coast of Long Island, N.Y., in August that year and took it to Connecticut, thus beginning a court battle in the midst of America’s abolitionist movement.
Surviving slaves of the Amistad did not receive their freedom until 1841, after three trials. The event marked the first successful revolt in the United States.
Students from Baltimore’s Heritage High School, Renaissance Academy and Highlandtown Elementary listened to Pinkney recall Amistad’s history. The children were allowed to board the ship, and Pinkney encouraged them to ask whatever questions they had.
“I thought it was wonderful,” said Antoinette Hooper, a Highlandtown social studies instructor.”I hope the kids honestly take a lot of knowledge away from this event, and I hope they understand the historical impact.”
The students agreed.
“I think it’s important for people to come out … and learn more about the Amistad,” said Highlandtown 5th grader Artavia Eldridge. Artavia, 10, said she learned about the Amistad in school.
Donteasia Boone, 11, also said she learned about the Amistad in school. The fifth grader hoped to “learn more and more” about the ship during her trip, she said.
Free tours aboard the Freedom Schooner Amistad are open to the public from 9-12 a.m. and 2-6 p.m. on Sunday and Monday.