History of The Amistad Committee
Established in 1988, The Amistad Committee, Inc. is a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization. The original Amistad Committee formed 150 years ago in 1839 to raise funds for the legal defense and return voyage of the subsequently liberated Africans.
A Touch of History
In 1988, the Reverends Edwin Edmonds, Dixwell Congregational Church and Peter Ives, First Congregational Church of New Haven, the oldest Church in New Haven, proposed the organization of a series of events in 1989 commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the historic Amistad Trial that took place in the City.
We agreed that few knew the story, let alone the significance of the event on the history of the United States. Both Ministers were Congregationalists whose histories are entwined with the struggle of the captured Sierra Leoneans freedom. Dr. Edmonds was the Pastor of Dixwell, the original Temple Street Church, whose first Pastors and congregants played an active role in support of the captives.
The Revolt of those 56 Sierra Leoneans, rice farmers, who were destined to be slaves on a Cuban plantation, when they took over the vessel, Amistad, would stimulate the abolitionist movement in the US.
Captured by the Coast Guard and brought to Connecticut, their trials would lead to the US Supreme Court, the first human rights case in US history. Their struggle and victory would finally be decided in the bloodiest war in our history: The Civil War, to end slavery. We presented a list of 100 New Haven citizens to the then Mayor Biagio DiLieto to be appointed to the Committee. We organized several events in 1988, lectures, sermons, and even tried to commission an oratorio. In the midst of our work, several of us realized we needed a permanent memorial of the Amistad Revolt, a memorial that would constantly remind us of the long struggle for freedom and equality, in this instance by Africans, whose sole desire was to go home, to their family and country.
It would also serve to remind us that the struggle against the legacy of slavery was not over. The disease continues to plague the body politic.We realized that we had to organize a non-profit Committee to raise the funds and initiate a national search for a sculptor. Someone preferably an African American, who would represent, in art, our collective vision and the demands that we thought history had placed upon us.
We went about raising the funds for the statue and conducted two national searches since the judges rejected the first submissions. Finally, they accepted the contribution of the noted African American sculptor, Ed Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky, whose Sengbe Pieh , the leader of the Sierra Leone captives, stands in front of our City Hall, formerly the jail where the captives were held during their trials.
-Alfred L. Marder, President, Amistad Committee, Inc.