March 25, 2000
Thousands crowd Mystic Seaport to watch launch of Amistad replica

                  MYSTIC, Connecticut (AP) -- More than a century ago, Sengbe Pieh led slaves
                  aboard the Amistad in a revolt in which they overthrew their captors in an effort to
                  return to their homeland.

                  On Saturday, the launching of a full-size replica of the 129-foot schooner gave
                  Pieh's great-grandson hope for the future and optimism that his ancestor's fight for
                  freedom would soon be heard around the world.

                  "It's unbelievable that an icon of slavery is being transformed in this millennium into
                  an icon of partnership, faith in each other and of human rights for all of us," said
                  Samuel Pieh, who runs an organization that works to improve relations between Africa
                  and the United States.

                  Thousands, including American and Sierra Leone dignitaries and descendants of the
                  Amistad captives, watched and cheered as the 138-ton vessel was lowered into the
                  Mystic River.

                  The ship was christened with water from Cuba, Long Island and Sierra Leone -- where
                  the slaves were sold, captured by American authorities and finally returned home.

                  Shirley Yema Gbujama, the minister of social welfare, gender and children's affairs in
                  Sierra Leone, and African-American actress Ruby Dee broke the traditional bottle of
                  champagne over the ship's bow.

                  A silver bell tolled for each of the ship's 53 captives.

                  The six-year, $3.1 million marked the beginning of the unending task of teaching
                  histories, forgotten stories and improving race relations, organizers said.

                  "She represents friendship, which is the translation of the name Amistad,
                  cooperation ... all of the good stuff," said Warren Marr II, who began in 1976
                  to push for the project.

                   The slaves took control of the original Amistad near Cuba in 1839. Their story
                   was depicted in a 1997 movie by Steven Spielberg.

                  Led by Sengbe Pieh, the slaves killed the captain of the Spanish ship and tried to
                  force its crew to sail them back to Africa. The ship wandered up the East Coast
                  before landing on Long Island. They were captured there, brought to New
                  London and then jailed in New Haven and several trials followed.

                  An 1841 U.S. Supreme Court ruling freed the slaves, whose cause had been taken up
                  by white abolitionists and former President John Quincy Adams. The 35 Africans who
                  survived returned to their homeland in 1842 and established churches and schools for

                  "Our mission is to tell the story of the Amistad as well as the story of the human rights
                  struggle that exists today," said William Pinkney, the ship's captain. "We want to
                  show young people what can happen with cooperation."

                  The ship will make its maiden voyage to New York City on July 2.

                  It will be operated by the nonprofit Amistad America, created by the Mystic Seaport.
                  The ship will dock around the world including Cuba and Sierra Leone.

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.