Magazine article The Christian Century

UCC Official: 'Amistad' Distorts Abolitionists

Magazine article The Christian Century

UCC Official: 'Amistad' Distorts Abolitionists

Article excerpt

Steven Spielberg's Amistad has been criticized by United Church of Christ official Thomas E. Dipko, who said the new film fails to give proper credit to the role played by Christian abolitionists in the real-life drama on which the movie is based. Dipko, who heads the UCC agency that traces its roots to the Amistad case, said the movie "often misrepresents Christian abolitionists as arrogant or self-serving."

In a statement issued December 16, Dipko called the alleged misrepresentations tragic. "What those Christian abolitionists really did was to create what we now recognize as the nation's first human rights movement," he said. Amistad tells the story of a group of Africans who, after being captured by slave traders, revolt and eventually make their way to Connecticut. The movie focuses on the Africans' legal efforts to regain their freedom with the help of sympathetic New Englanders -- including John Quincy Adams, the congressman and former president who argued, their case before the Supreme Court.

The UCC's Board of Homeland Ministries, headed by Dipko, grew out of the Amistad Committee, which was organized in 1839 to help the African captives. The original Amistad Committee members were members of Congregationalist churches, most of which merged in 1957 into the UCC, a 1.5-million-member mainline Protestant denomination. Following the case's successful conclusion, the Amistad Committee did not disband. Instead, in 1846, its members helped to create the American Missionary Association, the first antislavery Christian mission society on American soil. Within five years after the Civil War, the association founded 300 mission schools for blacks. Those schools have evolved into such institutions as Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Fisk University in Nashville.

Among the many who have benefited from the committee's legacy is Andrew Young, who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. …

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