On Amistad Anniversary, A Call For Reparations

As he commemorated the history of a court case that freed a group of African slaves, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information proposed a new lawsuit—suing Spain for damage caused by the slave trade.

Minister Alpha Kanu (pictured), spokesman for the president of Sierra Leone, made that proposal Friday morning outside City Hall, standing in front of a statue commemorating the Amistad Revolt of 1839, in which a group of slaves took control of the Spanish slaving ship La Amistad.

Kanu said the Spanish government should pay reparations for capturing and trafficking the slaves on La Amistad, 164 years ago.

Kanu was the featured speaker at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Amistad Committee, an organization dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the Amistad Revolt, and the court case it prompted. The event, part of a day of activities, drew over 100 people, and featured city and state officials.

Click here to read about an Amistad-themed Sierra Leone visit five years ago.

In 1839, La Amistad was near Cuba, transporting African slaves captured in Sierra Leone. On July 2, Sengbe Pieh, one of the slaves, led a revolt and seized control of the ship. The slaves tried to sail back to Africa, but the Spanish navigator guided the ship instead to Long Island. The slaves ended up in U.S. custody in New Haven.

A court case ensued to determine the fate of the captured slaves. John Quincy Adams argued on behalf of freeing the slaves. In 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been illegally held captive. The 35 surviving Africans were freed and returned to Sierra Leone.

In his remarks on Friday, Kanu told the story of the Amistad Revolt, highlighting the fact that the slaves were captured after Britain and the United States had banned the international slave trade. The capture and transportation of the slaves amounted to a “crime against humanity perpetrated then by a sovereign nation,” Kanu said, referring to Spain.

“New Haven and Sierra Leone have a right to ask the Spanish government to pay reparations for the injustice done to our people,” Kanu said. “Why shouldn’t we ask?”

“I believe there is room for a class-action suit to be initiated,” Kanu said, to murmurs of assent from the crowd. “Let us make this a test case. ... Let us stop crying and let us fight for those who have gone.”

Kanu later said that any reparations money should go to the Sierra Leone government, the people of New Haven, and living relatives of the Amistad captives.

“Hopefully, we’ll get some John Quincy Adamses to help us,” Kanu said.

Friday’s commemoration continue at the Grove Street cemetery, where the bodies of some of the Amistad captives are buried.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 20, 2013  4:11pm

“New Haven and Sierra Leone have a right to ask the Spanish government to pay reparations for the injustice done to our people,” Kanu said. “Why shouldn’t we ask?”

How about reparations for the injustice done to black people here in America.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 20, 2013  6:59pm

I wonder how much positive coverage this story would have receieved, if any at all, had the proposal been for reparations for African-Americans.

When a Black State Senator, and NOT the Governor, the State’s highest elected official, “apologized” a few weeks ago on behalf of the State of CT for slavery, this publication made a point (I think) of pointing out that the “apology” expressly prohibited a claim for reparations..

The people who continually benefit from the spoils of slavery and hold the reigns of power today do not warm up to the idea that the descendant of enslaved Africans should be compensated for what our ancestors endured to lay the foundation upon which this world’s sole Super Power now sits.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 21, 2013  8:22pm

I wonder who is going to “apologize” for THIS.


posted by: Walt on September 22, 2013  6:29pm

Don’t apologize for slavery   on my behalf ,or use my tax money to pay reparations.

We had nothing to do with it.

If there is no applicable statute   of limitations go after descendents of slaveholders who were enriched, (I know of none),  but leave our tax money alone

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 23, 2013  10:10pm

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

“We had nothing to do with it” - Famous Last Words of the Non-empathetic and the Inhumane.

posted by: OhHum on September 24, 2013  12:03pm

Should reparations be garnered from those African nations that allowed other Africans to be sold into slavery? Should descendants of African-Americans who were freemen and did nothing to stop slavery be asked to apologize and contribute to reparations? Should all the immigrants who have come to the U.S. from Asia, So. America,Eastern and Western Europe and many other places that had no hand in the slave trade, apologize or pay for reparations? Do the vast majority of nations and people on planet Earth speak in one voice and condemn slavery, past and present? I believe the answer is yes. Can one realistically expect more?

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 24, 2013  4:30pm

Yes, Mr/Ms. OhHum, one (or even two) can “realistically expect more”.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on September 24, 2013  4:37pm

Yes Mr/Ms. OhHum, one (or even two) CAN “realistically expect more.”