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is vessel of spiritual history

Amistad is vessel of spiritual history to church people attending March 25 launch

     MYSTIC, Conn. -- When the schooner "Amistad" is launched on Saturday, March 25, a multiracial group of Christians will be among hundreds of dignitaries on hand.  For these members of the United Church of Christ, the "Amistad" is more than a special project worth funding, and more than a messenger of freedom and racial justice.

    It is spiritual history come alive.

     The new schooner is named for an old one.  In 1839, captives who had been kidnaped in West Africa and endured the brutal "Middle Passage" wound up in Cuba and were placed on a ship called the "Amistad."  On the way to America they rebelled, took control of the ship and tried to sail home.  Tricked by the pilot, they and the ship were captured by U.S. authorities near Long Island and hauled to New Haven, Conn.  Thus began a legal battle whose climax came in 1841, when the Supreme Court ruled the captives were free; they never had been slaves.

     This little-known story in American history gained exposure through Steven Spielberg's 1998 movie "Amistad."  But the film omits the role of Christians, ranging from a committee of abolitionists to entire congregations, both White and Black, who came to the aid of the "Amistad" captives before, during and after
their court battles.

     The momentum of the Amistad Event led to the formation of the American Missionary Association, which over the next 100 years started schools and colleges for African Americans and took up causes of justice and mercy for immigrants and citizens belonging to many racial and ethnic groups.  The American Missionary Association is now part of a United Church of Christ mission board, and UCC organizations are among the major sponsors of the effort to build the new "Amistad."

     Dozens of UCC people will be involved at in the March 25 launch at Mystic Seaport:

* The Rev. John H. Thomas, president of the Cleveland-based denomination, will offer a prayer of invocation as the ceremonies start at 11 a.m.

* The Connecticut Conference, a statewide organization of the United Church of Christ, is inviting its 260 congregations to ring church bells at 11 a.m.

* The entire Board of Directors of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, which carries on the legacy and work of the American Missionary Association and is a major financial sponsor of the Amistad, will bus in from a meeting in Hartford.  Among its leaders who will take part in a drum-led procession to the dock at 11 a.m. are the Rev. Thomas E. Dipko, a European American from Cleveland; Frank L. Morris, Sr., an African American layman from DeSoto, Tex.; the Rev. Hilary J. Barrett, a pastor from Ambler, Pa.; Richard A. Hopkins, a European American layman from Rowayton, Conn.; and John K. Leung, an Asian American layman from Flagstaff, Ariz.

* Representatives will also be present from the Connecticut Conference (also a financial sponsor) and its 260 local churches, many of which date back to -- and were involved in -- the original Amistad event.

     Even participants who are not representing the church this Saturday have UCC connections.  Among them are two people who will remove chains from the ship just before a bottle is broken over the hull.  Christopher Cloud, executive director of Amistad America, the nonprofit organization that is building and will operate the ship, is a United Church of Christ lay person.  Warren Marr, one of the original motivators of the Amistad project, caught the vision for the project when he was serving with the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries in the 1970s.

     More information, consult the following Internet sites:
On the freedom schooner Amistad and its launch:




On the Amistad Event and the American Missionary Association
and their connection to the United Church of Christ:





Hans Holznagel, 216-736-3863 <>
Barb Powell, 216-736-2217 <>
In Connecticut, contact:
Tricia Wood, Mystic Seaport, 860-572-5317
Will Mebane, Amistad America, 203-499-2710

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