Tuesday, August 10, 2010

AMISTAD EXHIBIT, NEW LONDON and THE WORLD'S LARGEST CASINO

A casino and the story of kidnapped Africans-extreme differences mark these two places, except to say American Indians were treated almost as poorly as African Americans. We intended to visit the largest casino in the world, the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Casino and Museum. Recommended to us as an excellent Museum, we arrived to find it closed. The casino was not.
In fact, the Amistad Exhibit at the old Custom House Maritime Museum on Bank St. in New London, was also closed. Except for the munificence of Director Susan Tamulevich...but I'm ahead of myself.
Last year, I dared to take a picture of  Jim's friends at lunch in an Indian Casino at Yellem, Washington, where his friend was a member of the tribe. They stopped me at the door and checked my digital photo and "let me go."  Here, no one seemed to care about the photos, though I kept to the areas away from gambling.
An MGM Grand Tower connects to the Foxwood Casino, a partnership of some sort with shared parking. Gambling doesn't appeal to me, but the theaters, shows and restaurants...there is always something to enjoy. From a casino, I've come to expect glitz, the sound and excitement of machines signaling a jackpot.  At the very least I expected an Indian motif  showing the great heritage of a proud people. I was disappointed those elements were missing. Hard rock sculptures with Indian themes were sprinkled about the place. The one above was my favorite. Most of them didn't appeal to me. Foxwood had a hard edge to it, such as these clever, but hard plastic "lounge" chairs.
In fact, my favorite thing about the casino was its beautiful abstract carpeting. The Italian gelato was delicious. We didn't stay very long.

We quickly moved on to the Custom House Maritime Museum to see the Amistad Exhibit.
 Susan Tamulevich is so endearingly proud of this exhibit. When she told us it was displayed for the United Nations she got emotional and almost shed a tear. The unfolding of this historical event is fittingly written on humble canvases about the room. The importance of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, ruling that Africans kidnapped from their village, who chose to defend themselves by killing their "enemies" and taking control of the Amistad, when unlawfully detained by the Spaniards, were freed and returned to Africa; and  given that this ship was brought to the shores of the United States, a country where slavery was legal, is truly a testament to the tenent that justice is blind. Or, maybe it is more complex than that?
Here are some excerpts of  newspapers of the day that aroused public sentiment against letting them go free and for letting them go free.
The incident happened at such a time in American History that people were conflicted about slavery; a time when abolitionists were actively proselytizing against bondage; a time when good Christians were bravely speaking out against inhumanity to their fellow man. Many objectors were women.
It became the talk of the states. No one was exempt from hearing about the "savages" in the New London Jail.
The Spaniards kidnapped forty-nine men and four children from their village in Sierra Leone, headed for the sugar plantations of Cuba. This group fought back under the leadership of Cinque, who organized his companions to overtake the crew while they were still in shackles. Aware that they did not know how to sail the ship, they kept two of the Captains alive and ordered them to return to Africa. During the day, while the Africans watched,  they sailed for Africa.  During the night, the Spaniards reversed positions and thus they zigzagged into the area where the American Ship, George Washington spotted them and hauled the errant ship into New London.
  A drawing of their leader Cinque. Drawings were done of all of the captured men. Two died in the revolt; nine died on the voyage before the revolt; six died in jail at New London. One drowned, a possible suicide.
Drawings were made of the men held in New London. It no doubt helped to personalize them. In fact, there were many slave revolts on board ships. Revolts almost never succeeded, but even so, the slavers kept the revolts secret, hushed them up, so as not to encourage more.
An expression of jubilation at having been released from prison. Interestingly, from the Custom House window, you can look upon the very spot the Amistad was brought to dock and unloaded.
This story is simply and directly wrought. The Supreme Court decision made with one dissenting vote, had repercussions throughout the country as people became more and more uncomfortable with enslaving others to do their labor in a "free" country. It affected thought and helped strengthen the anti-slavery sentiment that preceded the Civil War.
Please go to this excellent exhibit if you are in the area of New London. 

For several more photos, check the link below:
http://picasaweb.google.com/1579penn/8910FxwdCasinoMGMGrndAmistadExhbt#

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