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175 years after Amistad revolt, non-profit struggles to carry on story

The replica "Freedom Schooner Amistad"
Craig LeMoult
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WSHU Public Radio

A hundred and seventy five years ago Wednesday, 49 African men and four children who had been sold into the slave trade, revolted on board the schooner La Amistad. The ship ultimately made it to Connecticut, where today, a non-profit with a state-funded replica of the ship is struggling to carry on the story.

The schooner was built at Mystic Seaport in 1999 with $2.5 million dollars of state money. But the group overseeing the ship, Amistad America Inc., stopped filing its annual tax forms, and wound up losing its non-profit status.

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Credit Craig LeMoult
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The replica "Freedom Schooner Amistad" in New Haven on Wednesday

The group's Executive Director, Hanifa Washington, says that’s because they didn’t have the $50,000 a year it costs to conduct the necessary audit of their operations. Last year, the state held back some of the $359,000 they give the Amistad every year, to pay for an audit from 2009 to the present. The first four years of that audit is expected to be released in the next week or so.

“I can say that the audit shows no malfeasance," says Washington. "There are definitely corrective actions that they want us to take internally, but there’s no mismanagement of money.”

Kip Bergstrom is with Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development.

“We need to get this organization to the point where it’s strong enough financially with a combination of state money, earned revenue and private contributions that it can really tell that story in a much more aggressive way than it’s been able to tell it in the last two years," says Bergstrom. "It’s just absolutely critical that this story be told.”

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Credit Craig LeMoult
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The replica "Freedom Schooner Amistad" in New Haven on Wednesday

Bergstrom says that story is one of Connecticut’s finest moments.  The 19-month trial helped strengthen the abolitionist cause, and 35 surviving captives eventually headed home.

Marking the anniversary of the revolt, a bell on the replica schooner was rung in memory of the captives, as well as for victims of slavery today. The Amistad group is partnering with the organization Love 146 to focus on modern-day slavery issues.

The replica Amistad will be in and out of New Haven between now and October, visiting various ship festivals along the way, including one in Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Craig produces sound-rich features and breaking news coverage for WGBH News in Boston. His features have run nationally on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on PRI's The World and Marketplace. Craig has won a number of national and regional awards for his reporting, including two national Edward R. Murrow awards in 2015, the national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award feature reporting in 2011, first place awards in 2012 and 2009 from the national Public Radio News Directors Inc. and second place in 2007 from the national Society of Environmental Journalists. Craig is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Tufts University.