Alabama college opens home for Amistad slave ship murals
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A historically black college in Alabama is unveiling a new home for murals that depict a famous revolt by African captives aboard a slave-trading ship more than 180 years ago.
Talladega College on Friday was scheduled to dedicate a new museum that will hold paintings which illustrate the story of the Amistad mutiny.
Commissioned by the college in 1938 and painted by artist Hale Woodruff, the murals hung in the campus library for nearly seven decades until they were removed for restoration and a national tour in 2008.
Worth about $50 million, according to the college, the three paintings will now be the centerpiece of a new campus exhibit.
“The murals are seen ... as a hidden jewel, but now it’s no longer a hidden jewel,” said Seddrick Hill, vice president of institutional advancement, in a video released by the college. “We have a another reason to come to this wonderful city and explore this artwork, which means so much to a lot of people.”
Located about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Birmingham, Talladega College is a private, four-year school that is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. It was founded in 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, by the descendants of slaves.
Slave traders illegally abducted more than 50 people from what is now the west African nation of Sierra Leone in 1839 and shipped them to Cuba. African captives took over the Amistad after it left Havana, killing the captain and cook, and the schooner was seized by a U.S. ship after it arrived off Long Island, New York.
The Africans were arrested and eventually tried before the Supreme Court, where they were represented by John Quincy Adams, a former U.S. president who argued for their freedom, according to the National Archives. The court granted the Africans’ release, and 35 survivors returned to Africa.
The brightly colored murals depict the takeover of the ship, the trial and the Africans’ return to their homeland. They have been in storage since 2016.
The shipboard revolt and its aftermath was the subject of the 1997 movie “Amistad,” directed by Steven Spielberg.