PRINCIPAL’S BOOK OF THE MONTH – March 2017
The Amistad Slave Revolt and American Abolition written by Karen Zeinert
**All teachers – please have Ms. Shults approve all internet related resources before sharing with the students.
Summary: In 1839, fifty-three West Africans brought to Cuba and sold as slaves, seized the ship La Amistad; killed two men; and sailed toward the rising sun. This way, their leader Cinque reasoned, they would reach home. But at night their Spanish captives steered west, and so the Amistad zig-zagged north to Long Island, New York. Here it was captured by the U.S. Navy and towed to New Haven in the slave state of Connecticut. Over the next two years, the Amistad incident was to write a new chapter in the history of American abolition.
At issue were the salvage rights to the vessel, its "cargo" of Africans, and murder. Enthusiastically embraced by leading abolitionists, the cause of the Mende people was pleaded successfully in the lower courts. But President Martin Van Buren intervened, and the case dragged its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Pitted against the president and Southern and foreign interests, an aged John Quincy Adams rose in defense of the Mende- and won.
During their detention, the Africans had been "civilized"- taught English by Yale students, converted to Christianity, and shown off for the abolitionist cause. The Mende were heartsick, but willing. Their ordeal brought home to Americans as never before the injustice of ripping people from their land and their loved ones to be sold as chattel. Their plea was simple: "All we want is make us free." For the thirty-eight men and children who survived, it was finally answered.
In this carefully researched and gripping story, author Karen Zeinert clarifies the complexities of the Amistad incident: international relations; economic realities; political and legal maneuverings; and of course, human rights.
Objective: Students will be able to explore the issues of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade; to understand why the Amistad Revolt was a significant event in the history of three intertwined countries; West Africa, Cuba, and the United States; to understand the predicament of the slaves on the Amistad and the conditions that let them to revolt against their captors.
Before Reading: The students should be able to define slavery. In addition, the students should be able to identify the period of time in which slavery was legally permissible in the United States.
Grades 4 & 5 ONLY - Suggested Writing Activity #1: Randomly assign each student a number from one to three. Each student will write an essay about a scenario related to the Amistad. A student assigned the number 1 will write about scenario #1; a student assigned the number 2 will write about scenario #2, and so on. These are the three scenarios:
· Scenario #1: Imagine that you are living in Africa in the 1830’s. You were taken from your parents, marched to the coast of Africa, and are now chained in a smelly, dark ship's hold. How do you feel? What are you thinking? What would your biggest fears be? If you were a child on the Amistad, would you have liked Cinque? Why or why not?
· Scenario #2: Imagine that you are Cinque and you have just been told that you and your companions are to be killed. How do you feel? What will you do? How would you justify your actions?
· Scenario #3: Imagine that you are a slave trader. Why are you in this business? What are your feelings toward your slaves? Do you regard them as people, or property, or both? How would you justify feeling this way about your slaves?
Suggested Writing Activity #2:
Critical thinking. The word "amistad" in Spanish means "friendship." Invite students to respond to the question: Do you think Amistad was a good name for the ship that sailed with the Mende African slaves? As students respond to the question, write their comments on a sheet of chart paper headed with the question and divided into two columns -- one labeled "yes" and the other labeled "no." You might have to encourage students to think about the story of the Amistad in positive terms. (Some students will think the name of the ship was a cruel joke because of what happened on it; others might think that the end result of the story -- the freeing of the Mende slaves -- was a positive one and that today the Amistad stands as a positive symbol of one step in the process toward the abolition of slavery.) At the end of the discussion invite each student to write a paragraph taking one side in the debate. Students must support their "yes" or "no" responses to the question.
Self-Assessment: After the lesson has been presented, the instructor should assess the lesson by evaluating the students’ written essays, as well as the student’s verbal responses during the class discussions. Did the students convey an accurate understanding of the predicament of the slaves on the Amistad? Were the students able to put themselves in the place of the various people on the ship -- both the slaves and the captors? Were they able to understand how they felt and why they behaved the way they did? These should be the criteria used to determine the success or failure of this lesson.
Grades 2 - 3 Suggested Timeline Activity:
Teach the Amistad Timeline, divide students into groups representing certain sections of the timeline and have students create an Amistad Timeline using hangers. Students can share timelines in groups.
See attached Amistad Timeline.
**All teachers – activities and information shared with the students should be age appropriate. Please have Ms. Shults approve all internet related resources before sharing with the students.
The Amistad Slave Revolt