By Brenda Brathwaite, chair, NJEA Amistad Stakeholder Group

“We want free.”

Sengbe Pieh, also known as Joseph Cinqué, said those exact words during his district trial testimony in New Haven, Connecticut to set himself and other African captives free, after their mutiny aboard the Spanish schooner La Amistad in 1839. The July 2 revolt occurred 181 years ago. It became one of the most celebrated uprisings against the trans-Atlantic slave trade, because of its symbolic nature in securing the freedom of abducted Africans within the institutionalized system of slavery in the United States.

The story of the Amistad Revolt has been well-documented and conveyed through primary sources, including court proceedings. There are also biographies, books, and even a movie adaptation of the revolt. However, the extensive availability of information about the revolt becomes meaningless if we do not seek to educate ourselves about how the Black experience began in the United States.

Our racial and social justice work requires that we familiarize ourselves with historical occurrences that have produced systems of inequities and limited opportunities for people of color. The intent of the New Jersey Department of Education’s Amistad Curriculum is to acknowledge the contributions of Africans and African Americans to the history of the United States. Whether choosing to review the Amistad Curriculum, to delve into the Amistad Revolt, or to begin with a different facet of experiences of people of color, I invite you to begin somewhere.