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Amistad: A Long Road to Freedom Paperback – December 31, 2001
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From School Library Journal
Grade 6-10AWith characteristic scholarship, clarity, insight, and compassion, Myers presents readers with the facts and the moral and historical significance of the Amistad episode. Archival photographs and artwork, newspaper accounts and correspondence, and interpretive text reveal the dramatic story of the captive Africans who mutinied against their slaver crew and accidentally landed in the United States instead of back in Africa. From their imprisonment in 1839, through two years of court battles ending up in the Supreme Court, this group of Africans, led by their striking spokesman, Sengbe (Cinque), aroused the moral conscience of America. The complicated issues involved are explained within the context of the times when tension in the United States between antislavery and slaveholding forces was escalating. The author tells the human story along with the legal story: the search for an interpreter to deliver Sengbe's testimony; the despair of the Africans who could not comprehend the reason for their imprisonment; the fascination of Americans with these proud, unyielding captives; and the dilemma of major historical personalities who dealt with this controversy. This story is not the movie screenplay. Although the topic is timely, Myers offers readers a well-researched, documented, nonfictionalized account of this far-reaching episode. Frequent black-and-white maps, drawings, and diagrams add to an understanding of this tragic event.AGerry Larson, Durham Magnet Center, Durham, NC
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Gr. 5^-9. Like Jurmain, Myers gives a dramatic factual account of the capture in West Africa, the hellish journey aboard the slave ship on the Middle Passage, the sale in Cuba, the mutiny led by Sengbe on the Amistad as it sailed from Cuba, the forced landing in Connecticut, the subsequent court trials in the U.S., and the final struggle to return home. The design is clear and readable, with spacious type, historic photographs and prints, a time line, a map showing the voyages of the captives, and a bibliography. Myers includes considerable detail drawn from primary reports but no source notes. The narrative is exciting, not only the account of the uprising but also the tension of the court arguments about whether the captives were property and what their rights were in a country that banned the slave trade but allowed slavery. Myers distinguishes among the various captives, quoting the children and the adults, as well as their great leader, Sengbe, who wanted to get home. Hazel Rochman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This book is a marvelously drawn narrative history of the Amistad saga that begins with a contextual portrait of the Atlantic slave trade which was by 1808 illegal, though still widely practiced as this case shows. Myers traces the dramatic journey of Sengbe, a rice farmer in Mani and the future leader of the ship-board revolt from his capture by other Africans and sale to a Spanish slave-trader to the horrible Middle Passage to Cuba and the eventual landing on Long Island and capture by US Navy personal. It is in New London and New Haven, Connecticut that this case begins a near three-year legal, moral, and political conflict that touched the United States profoundly at the time and for years afterwards. Myers describes and analyzes in minute yet engrossing detail the legal battle waged between the forces of slavery and the forces of abolition in this country while never losing sight of the fascinating personalities involved. Using historic maps, engravings, and photographs, and displaying some painstaking research into primary sources (without source notes), Myers makes the case come alive and provides an engaging companion work to Spielberg's motion picture (DreamWorks owns part of the copyright), going beyond the time scope of the movie to follow many of the characters after their victorious Supreme Court case to an abolitionist community in Connecticut and eventually home to Africa. One of Africans even returned again to America to attend college!
I have no reservation using this book in a middle school or high school history class. It discusses the specific historical context in clear language that would serve as either a good introduction to the issues of slavery and abolitionism for middle school students or as a refresher and supplement for high school students of US history. It is written in a narrative style that is compelling and engaging for teens (and adults), but does not disengage when it pauses for analytical treatment of complex political or legal issues. Rather, Myers discusses many of these complex issues (especially the legal ones) in ways that simplify but do not reduce the contradictory moral issues at the heart of the story. Thus the built in tension of the story is preserved. I was compelled to read on even though I knew the ending.
Myers begins with a brief overview of the importation of slaves into the United States, describing the contradictions of the American Revolution regarding slaves and the Constitutional restriction of importing slaves into the US after 1808 as well as the international restrictions in place by that time. Britain outlawed slavery in 1787 and subsequently made treaties with other countries over the issue including one with Spain in 1817 that made exportation of slaves from Africa illegal. But because slavery itself was legal in both the US and the Spanish colonies, Myers makes clear that there was still a great deal of illegal slave trading going on. He even allows for the possibility that the slave cargo of the Amistad that revolted three days out of Havana (ostensibly bound for Puerto Principe in south-east Cuba) was in fact destined for the Carolinas to provide the rice plantations with skilled agricultural workers.
In a section discussing the economic costs and prices of boats, slaves, and provisions, Myers shows that the economic incentives were high enough to interest certain types of businessmen into risking defiance of international law by continuing the brutal enslavement of West Africans and their forced transportation to the Americas. He says, in fact, that the highest prices for young, strong laborers were being paid in the United States. These facts alone provide much fodder for classroom discussions into the nature of slavery as an economic system and lend support for critical examination of this still controversial topic and its legacies.
Myers' book has a cast of dozens of interesting historical personalities, major and minor, famous and infamous. Among the famous and infamous were John Quincy Adams (who argued on behalf of the Africans to the Supreme Court) and Roger Tawney (sitting on that Court) who would later author the Dred Scott decision. The roles and positions of many abolitionists involved in the case are described from Robert Purvis and Rev. James W.C. Pennington to William Lloyd Garrison and Lewis Tappan. In examining the abolitionist movement as it publicized and championed the Amistad captives from the moment of their capture to their eventual return to Africa, Myers depicts a diverse movement of reformers and radicals, some of whom were not opposed to using the Africans for political ends beyond their own personal fates, whether it was proselytizing Christianity or attempting to set legal precedents in their quest to reform slavery out of existence. Again to Myers credit, he shows them as they were historically in all their contradictions.
As Myers writes towards the end of the book, "Perhaps the most important aspect of the efforts of Lewis Tappan, Austin F. Williams, Joshua Leavitt, the other abolitionists, as well as the attorneys involved was that they allowed the world to see the Africans as human beings." Likewise, he describes in personalizing, humanizing detail, the principle protagonists of this historic drama: Sengbe, Kali, Kague, Margru, Foone, Burna, and others, who by their words, actions, and prayers demanded and pleaded and fought to be "given free."
Eventhough I only saw the movie it made me understand that Africans and colored people at that time where treated like animals, they didn't have rights as human beings and white people were the "Kings or Gods" who rule the world, they decided they where the superior race or something like that.
In my opinion this movie or book would be helpful for future generations so that humanity doesn't repeat this errors that where commited in the past to make them understand that that is not right, eventhough some people doesn't care about religion to teach them that God doesn't care about race he cares about us human beings, on what we do and whom we love, and even with technology we don't rule the world because we don't really have the power. Just because a contry has the money of the world doesen't mean we rule other contries or make a club whom their objective is beating other people just because they are not the same as them the only one who judge us is God and God alone.