Susan Haber's History 108 class - Early American History -recently covered a unit on slavery. In her online forum, Professor Haber asked students if they'd seen the movie Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg. The Amistad was a slave ship bound for Puerto Principe, Cuba in 1839. Before it reached its destination, a number of the slaves, led by a man named Cinque, managed to break out of their irons and take over the ship. They ended up killing the captain, Ramon Ferrer, and a mulatto cook. Then they ordered two Spanish dons - Pedro Montes and Jose Ruiz - to sail the ship to Africa. Yet Cinque's plan was foiled when sailors on a U. S. Coast Guard brig, the Washington, took control of the ship. U.S. officials ended up towing the Amistad to New London in America, so the slaves could be put on trial. Yet in 1839 the African slave trade was already illegal in America. Meanwhile, abolitionists were stirring up controversy about the domestic use of slave labor. In the end - after a series of trials - the Supreme Court ruled "the Negroes were 'kidnapped Africans, who by the laws of Spain itself were entitled to their freedom.' They were not criminals: the 'ultimate right of human beings in extreme cases is…to apply force against ruinous injustice.' The Africans could stay or they could return to Africa. (http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/trialheroes/Tappanessay.html).
For more information about the Amistad case, as well as reviews of the film, check out Amistad Trials 1839 - 1840. Or come into the library and watch the film (DVD HIST 108).