In honor of Sengbe Pieh, a Sierra Leonean who led the Amistad revolt, Solomon Berewa, Vice President of Sierra Leone, paid a visit to Pieh’s monument in front of City Hall Thursday.
The ceremony, which was hosted by the Amistad Committee, included a welcome from state Sen. Toni N. Harp and Alfred L. Marder, president of the Amistad Committee.
After giving a short speech and laying a wreath at the foot of the statue, the Vice President then moved to the Grove Street Cemetery to pay his respects to six Amistad captives who died in New Haven.
“There is never a small man when it comes to justice and freedom.” Berewa said, “I hope that this link between New Haven, the U.S., and all the free world will teach us that we are all creatures from the same father.”
The sculpture of Sengbe Pieh was made in 1992, and every year since then a high ranking leader from Sierra Leone, along with the country’s vice president, has paid a visit to New Haven. Distinguished guests this year included Ibrahim Kama, Ambassador to the U.S., Robert Pemagbi, Ambassador to the United Nations, and Deputy Ambassador Sylvester Rowe.
Marder began the ceremony with a short introduction. “Our role in the Amistad Committee is to overcome the legacy of slavery, to overcome racism,” said Marder. “This Sierra Leonean led a struggle for freedom.” The opening remarks were followed by a performance by the Wexler/Grant School Children’s Chorus, which included the Sierra Leone national anthem and “America the Beautiful.”
“I look at this sculpture, and I see a typical Sierra Leonean,” Berewa said. “He looks so simple, but the idea behind this sculpture is so monumental. It is an idea that the whole world has fought behind, the ideal of freedom.”
Once Berewa had laid the wreath at the foot of the statue, Marder spoke about the importance of Sengbe Pieh’s struggle. “His message still lives on, that we are not stuck in time, that we can strive for equality.” Marder said.
Following the ceremony at the statue, the vice president then paid a visit to the Grove Street Cemetery to honor the six Amistad captives who died in New Haven while they were imprisoned. The ceremony was opened with a prayer by the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, pastor of the Varick A.M.E. Zion Church.
“[These graves] remind us what freedom is all about, they are a reminder of the strength that symbolizes freedom” said Lee. Afterwards, the vice president and Julianna Rowe, wife of the Ambassador to the U.N., poured libations over the grave stone.
“Our rights are not given to us; we have to fight for what is rightfully ours.” Rowe said.
After laying the wreath at the grave site, Robert Forbes of the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance at Yale, gave a short speech.
“People have long found inspiration in the story of the Amistad, and this grave site represents our shared sorrow as well as triumph,” Forbes said.