More than 130 Greenport and Southold students climbed aboard a replica of a famous sailing vessel earlier this week to grasp the historical significance of the slave trade and a U.S. Supreme Court decision, United States v. Schooner Amistad.
Students were guided across the 78-foot Amistad, a replica of the 19th-century Spanish schooner La Amistad, docked at Mitchell Park Marina in Greenport Monday and Tuesday. Tours were led by Discovering Amistad, a New Haven, Conn.-based organization formed in 2015.
Southold students helped Captain John Beebe-Center raise the sails on the ship and sailed across the marina Monday. High winds Tuesday prevented Greenport students from sailing, so students were given a dockside tour.
Both districts had the Amistad embedded into the curriculum. Earlier this month, Discovering Amistad educator Adwoa Bandele-Asante visited classrooms in both schools to tell students about the 1839 Amistad Uprising.
Educator Jason Hine told the story of Sengbe Pieh, a Mende captive from Sierra Leone aboard La Amistad who motivated a group of slaves to revolt in 1839 and take control of the ship. The group was later faced with slavery or execution.
“They came back out of the hold not as cargo, or slaves, but as freedom fighters,” Mr. Hine said.
The U.S. district courts ruled in favor of the Mende. In 1841, the case was later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which freed the Mende captives.
Greenport social studies teacher Brian Toussaint said the slave trade is embedded into the New York State curriculum. The Amistad visitation “complements” classroom learning, he said.
“Right now, our students are learning about the first colonies, the beginning of the slave trade,” he said. “They’re standing and they have placed themselves in the shoes, so to speak, of the people of that time. That sort of lesson is going to be much more valuable than anything we can do in the walls of a classroom.”
Two years ago, Greenport students visited the historic ship with help from nonprofit organization Friends of Mitchell Park. The group also sponsored the field trip this year.
“My experience on board The Amistad last year in June 2018 gave me a very real sense of the famous historic event that took place in the 19th century,” Greenport High School principal Gary Kalish stated in a press release.
The trip was initially planned for Oct. 7-11 but was canceled due to severe weather.
Top photo caption: While aboard the Amistad Tuesday, mate Ryan Crawford and deckhand Ray Jackson show Greenport seventh-graders the route La Amistad sailed in 1839. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)