A History Lesson

Getting the facts straight about the Amistad

Sometimes creative license, like the driver’s license of a serial drunk driver, should be revoked. Time and time again the folks in Hollywood deliberately stretch the truth when it comes to true-life tales. They tweak the story here or there. They bend the facts. They rewrite history. What the viewer is left with is a choppy mess. Why the extended metaphor? Because I went to the Charleston Harbor Fest this weekend and toured a recreation of famed “slave ship,” the Amistad. What I quickly learned from current Amistad crewman R.J. is that the Amistad was never a slave ship. It was a cargo ship that slaves ended up on. And contrary to the “facts” in the Steven Spielberg film about the slave mutiny on the ship, there were no women on the cargo vessel; it was just 47 men and three children. R.J. also informed us that there was even less space for slaves onboard the Amistad than your average slave ship. “They were laying three deep,” R.J. told us. “So if I’m on top and I go to the bathroom, and you’re on the bottom, I’m going to the bathroom on you.” R.J. then talked about the film’s other inaccuracies and pointed out the need to present history correctly. “We never hear this stuff in the classroom,” he said. “All we hear about is MLK and the Underground Railroad, but kids need to hear about this too.” The tour ended with a rousing call and response, with R.J. yelling “Amistad,” and the crowd yelling “Freedom!”