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Black Odyssey

I saw the overwrought Spielberg movie and was determined to learn more about what actually happened to the slaves who mutinied while at sea and found their ship landing in Connecticut to uncertain legal dominion. I spent a lot of time reading this slim book and hollering out loud “here’s another discrepancy...!”

I think we’re all aware that the big Hollywood movies tend to play free and easy with facts in order to suit their dramatic purpose, and since this book was small it was tough to tell what anecdotes in the movie might be true but there were some major points of issue:

  • the Amistads [as the black people who were aboard the ship were called] were attended to frequently while in prison and taught to read and write English by Yale students. They had good counsel for the majority of their legal odyssey
  • they were returned to Africa not by the US government but by a collection of Abolitionists and Missionaries who wanted to set up a mission in Sierra Leone and use the Amistads as preachers/coverts
  • John Quincy Adams -- while he did give a 100,000 word speech before the Supreme Court -- was not in any way reluctant to take the case on.

And those are only the major issues. While I think the movie had its good points -- slavery was worse than we can possibly imagine and people behave badly when their livelihoods are threatened -- overall I recommend that anyone really interested in the historical facts of the case read the book instead.