- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

Captain William Pinkney docked a sailing vessel symbolic of freedom at the Southwest Waterfront yesterday as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The captain, a black man, had been at sea with his crew since September.
The 129-foot tall ship he sailed into the Potomac was a recreation of "La Amistad," the Spanish cargo schooner taken over in a mutiny in 1839 by 53 enslaved Africans who were later held in jail in New Haven, Conn., on charges of murder.
The Africans who had been put aboard the Amistad by fraud were given their freedom after successful arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court by President John Quincy Adams. The story of the arrest, trial and release of the passengers became the focus of a 1997 movie "Amistad," directed by Steven Spielberg.
A master mariner with 40 years of experience, Captain Pinkney docked the Freedom Schooner Amistad in Southwest not far from a dias of dignitaries, a military band and a choir from Howard University where he says it will inspire pride, create harmony among the races and educate Americans.
"This is not a black story; it encompasses the fundamentals of human struggle, no matter where or when," Captain Pinkney said.
"We see [struggle] in the Middle East, in the Orient, in South America. … This is a success story that caused many people to galvanize," Captain Pinkney said from the main salon of this ship, which had sailed up the Potomac River about 10 a.m. after a journey from Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"There are those that say 'I don't want to come on the ship,'" he said, because of the part the original ship played in the slave trade. "I think it should be viewed as a badge of courage," Captain Pinkney said.
Michael Baptiste agrees with the captain.
The 17-year-old student, who attends Proctor Academy in Andover, N.H., could not wait to board the vessel yesterday, when the public was given its chance to inspect the ship.
"I'm in tune to what it represents. I wasn't a part of the [mutiny and trials], but my ancestors were. And their blood runs in my veins. I want to experience this. Why wouldn't any African American or Caucasian want to learn the history of the Amistad, so that it [slavery] is never repeated?" Michael said.
The $3.5 million Freedom Schooner Amistad was invited to the nation's capital by the National Maritime Heritage Foundation in Northeast in conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The schooner will be docked in Southwest until April 7, when it will begin its voyage home to Long Wharf in New Haven, Conn.
Those who toured the vessel were in for a surprise. There's no slave deck, no rack of shackles aboard. Rather, the hold is lined with historical documents, books and paintings which include the watercolor portrait of SengbePieh, the African who spearheaded the mutiny in which three persons the captain, the cook and one African were killed.
Remember, said Christopher R. Cloud, executive director of Amistad America Inc., the New Haven company that built and owns the $3.5 million ship: "La Amistad" was a cargo ship. The manifest in the hold of the ship states it carried sugar and grain, umbrellas and other products.
Mr. Cloud, 32, said Amistad America Inc. "built this [ship] as a symbol of freedom, cooperation, perseverance and liberty to teach young people the history of this incident and to understand the inherent lessons of cooperation and freedom," said the Howard University graduate.
Burl Haigwood, the co-chairman of the "Amistad's visit to D.C." and a volunteer with the National Maritime Heritage Foundation, smiled in the blustery winds on the waterfront yesterday. Mr. Haigwood, 43, couldn't have been happier to see the Freedom Schooner Amistad in the District for a lot of reasons.
"Amistad's history and message has great relevance to the people of Washington. We're particularly glad to have this opportunity to share this story with the area's children. The tall ship tells the story so powerfully, allowing everyone to get in touch with history," Mr. Haigwood said.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide