Friday, August 22, 2008

That's My Pop!

Amistad Arrives in Charleston via Sullivan's Island
Written by Bill Pinkney - Captain of S/V Amistad
Sunday, 18 May 2008

Sullivan’s Island is visible from the Charleston Maritime Center dock and seeing AMISTAD anchored off on the horizon gives a touch of the 19th Century to the panorama of Charleston Harbor. Riding out to the ship on the 28-foot RIB (rigid inflatable boat) was a bone-jarring experience. Bounding from wave-top to wave-top was fun until the rhythm was broken by missing the crest and landing in the trough. The landing transferred the force from the hull to the seat and to my unpadded posterior and loosened my dental fillings. Seeing AMISTAD growing larger as we approached, brought home the fact that this vessel, that means so much to me, had done exactly what it was built to do: carry the message of the AMISTAD story to the far reaches of the Atlantic World built on the labor of Africans stolen from their native lands.

Clambering over the rail, I was met by many hands extended to help and greet me. Familiar faces smiled and welcomed me aboard. Both the Middle Passage crew and the oncoming crew were aboard, giving the decks an energy that anticipated the upcoming task: formal arrival at the first Mainland U.S. port since June of 2007. Off to the land-side was Sullivan’s Island, for many years the site of quarantine for newly-arrived slaves and now the site of the beachfront homes of the well-heeled. We lay at anchor, while on shore crowds gathered for a remembrance ceremony within sight of AMISTAD as a backdrop.

The sun had long passed its zenith and was slowly moving toward the end of the day through hazy skies. Giant container ships passed each other in the narrow channel, unaware of the pageant taking place below their lofty bows. Against the tall silhouettes of gantry cranes of the Port of Charleston, we could see the sails of the schooners sailing out to escort us in. As they drew near and the modern vessels faded into the cityscape, the visual clock spun quickly back in time. Virginia, Spirit of South Carolina, and Corwith Cramer charged against the tide with all sails set.

We were hove-to as they passed us; Spirit of South Carolina fired a cannon salute as they drove close to the shore where the remembrance ceremony was taking place. In conversation later with participants of the ceremony, I discovered that those on shore did not understand that the cannon blast was in recognition and respect for what was happening ashore. Kudos to Captain Tony Arrow, former Chief Mate on AMISTAD, now Master of the South Carolina state flag-ship for his sensitivity to the meaning of the whole activity taking place.

As the parade rounded up and headed back towards the harbor, AMISTAD set sail and fell in line behind Corwith Cramer. On deck, the crew launched into singing and chanting of Sierra Leone songs: it was so right for who and what AMISTAD is. Sea shanties sung on most tall ships are so out-of-place on these decks.

Along with Captain Eliza Garfield, I had an opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings of what this event and the entire Atlantic Freedom Tour meant. The crew that crossed from Sierra Leone was recognized for the achievement they had accomplished. The oncoming crew was charged with the responsibility continuing the mission at the same high standards set.

The light was falling as we approached the floating barge where we were to dock. We could see people waving from the docks, my daughter, son-in-law and grand-children were immediately spotted by me as we fought the current and cross-wind to make a safe landing along side.

Comments (1)
written by Osei Terry Chandler , May 25, 2008

A wonderful experience to share a memorial program with members of the crew, the Gullah Geechie family and all who are concerned about our history, our future and our present.

As a member of the Charleston Remembrance Program, I would remind all who read this that we, along with an ever growing number of like minded people around the globe, commemorate the Middle Passage EVERY SECOND SATURDAY in June with a Libation and Prayer Ceremony sharply at 12 noon EST. While our ceremony is held at Sullivan's Island, others do the same in Brooklyn at Coney Island, Portobello Panama, San Francisco Bay Area, Cape Coast Ghana and ANYWHERE that you are at that time.

Special thanks to Donald George for inviting me to be part of the program on this visit.

Osei Terry Chandler


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