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The Amistad: The Slave Rebellion that Became a Movie


Have you seen the movie Amistad?

Cinque's spirit still lives

It tells the story of 53 Africans, held as slaves, who rebelled in 1839 against the people transporting them on a Spanish slave ship. The ship was called the Amistad -- and, ironically, the word "amistad" means "friendship" in Spanish. These 53 Africans were being taken to Cuba to be sold as slaves. Led in rebellion by a man named Joseph Cinque, the Africans killed the ship's captain and the rest of the crew. They spared only two sailors, whom they wanted to take them back to Africa.

Instead, they all ended up on the shores of America -- more specifically, in Connecticut. There, they caused a major commotion. Spain wanted the Africans back as slaves. People in the U.S. who were against slavery argued that because the Africans had been captured illegally in Africa, they should be allowed to go free.

The New Haven Green

The legal battle over the Africans on the Amistad took place in the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. John Quincy Adams, who had been President, argued for the Africans' freedom, and he eventually won the case. The case of the Amistad was very important for people who were fighting against slavery.


Between our car breaking down, my camera not working...

When I went to see the movie Amistad, I wondered how true it would be to the history of the Africans on the Amistad. I found out that, like most movies about history do, this movie changed some very important facts.

Amistad Memorial

For one thing, the movie made it seem like Americans who lived in the North were all against slavery, while Americans who lived in the South were all in favor of it. That's just not true. Slavery was legal in Connecticut, a northern state, when the Amistad landed there.

The movie also made it seem like the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Africans deserved the right to justice and freedom. That's not true either: the court only ruled that the Africans on the Amistad had been illegally kidnapped, and their decision didn't help other Africans held as slaves in the U.S.

The power of prayer

The story of the the Amistad is a very important story about Africans, captured as slaves, who overcame incredible odds and won their freedom. Yet it would be wrong to let this story make us forget that most U.S. laws and courts for centuries supported slavery, and that the Americans, not just the Spanish, were to blame for the slave trade. The story of these freed slaves is truly exceptional in American history.


Please email me at: irene@ustrek.org


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