The story of the schooner ship Amistad is a tale of resistance through necessary violence. Members of Sierra Leone’s Mende tribe rose up in violence against the captain and crew of the ship. The Mende were arrested on murder charges in New Haven, Connecticut. The case became a diplomatic affair between America and Spain. In the end, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Mende and those that were still alive were released.

In 1893 a group of Sierra Leone’s Mende people were kidnapped by Portuguese slave hunters. The free Africans were forced to sail to Havana, Cuba aboard a slave ship. Once in Havana, 53 of the captives were sold to Spaniards, and forced onto a ship named the Amistad. One of the victims, a 25-year-old man named Cinquez, managed to get loose of his chains. He then assisted his fellow Mende in escaping their restraints. A violent revolt then ensued and the captain and some of the crew were killed in the process. The Mende desperately tried to make their way back to their home of Sierra Leone, but through trickery the crew managed to sail the boat to Long Island, New York. There the Mende were arresting on charges of murder.


The Amistad event caught the attention of the public when the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Former US President John Adams represented the Mende in court. As a result of Adams’ eloquent defense, the Mende were acquitted on the grounds that they were free men when captured and merely acted to defend their freedom. Only 35 of the Mende survived to see the verdict of the trial, and in 1841 they sailed back home to Africa. This was an extremely rare case where violent enslavement resistance went in the favor of African people. Perhaps Cinquez’s words sum it up best, "Brothers, we have done that which we purposed, our hands are now clean for we have Striven to regain the precious heritage we received from our fathers. . . . I am resolved it is better to die than to be a white man's slave . . ."