by Mary Dickinson
August 11, 2004
The freed Africans dressed up in some of the clothes and fabrics that were part of the cargo. The Africans thought they were going back to Africa by following the sun east during the day, but the two men who purchased them at the slave market in Cuba, steered the ship north at night and they ended up off the Connecticut shore. Hungry, they tried to go ashore and get supplies but were recaptured by the USS Washington, a navy cutter.
Eventually, their case went to trial and they were defended by Roger Baldwin, played by Matthew McConaughey. Two abolitionists, Theodore Joadson, played by Morgan Freeman, and Lewis Tappan, played by Stellan Skarsgard, obtained the money for their defense and constantly assisted the case as it progressed. With the help of Yale Professor Josiah Gibbs, they found someone who could translate the Mende language and then they were able to communicate with the Africans. Cinque tells them of the terror of the slave fortress in Lomboko in Sierra Leone, on the coast of Africa, and the illegal slave trading going on in Cuba. Although the case was won in the district court in Connecticut, it was appealed. John Quincy Adams, played by Anthony Hopkins, represents the Africans when the case was heard again in the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Political maneuvering becomes an important issue. President Martin Van Buren wanted the case lost so he’d be reelected with the help of the Southern vote. Former President John Quincy Adams, defended the Africans, exciting sympathy for the cause of the Africans and slavery in general. Abolitionist in Connecticut wanted the case to be brought to the attention of the entire country. The movie presents the horror of slavery, but the message of fighting for freedom, no matter what the odds, is heard.
From journal The Amistad and the CT Freedom Trail