FREETOWN, 7 January 2021 – Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has granted citizenship to 22 African Americans who traced their origins to the West African country.
The 22 traveled from America to the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, for the ceremony in the country which was once – along with next-door Liberia – one of the territories to which slaves set free in the United States could return to live as free men and women.
Full of color, song and dance, one of the rituals consisted of the African Americans adopted an African name, preferably a Sierra Leonean name.
Welcome home, President Bio told the newly sworn-in citizens, as he handed over to each of them their newly-minted Sierra Leonean passports.
He invited the returnees to take pride in the heroism of Sierra Leoneans slaves who led one of the most famous rebellions aboard the Amistad slave ship. [See our account below].
“This is the land of Sengbeh Pieh of the Amistad revolt,” said President Bio.
“This is the land of the rice coast of the Gullahs, of folktales about the trickster, of handcraft, of foodways, of seeking rituals, and the call and response of African American song and dance. This is Sierra Leone,” President Bio added.
With the assistance of DNA, the majority of the 22 traced their roots to Bo and Tonkolili districts of the country.
The Sierra Leonean leader spoke of the transformation of his country from slavery and colonialism, through repressive dictatorships, bad governance, corruption, epidemics and natural disasters and civil wars.
One of the returnees, Dynast Abete Adewale Amir, promised to make good use of their citizenship by adding meaningful contributions to the development and goodwill of Sierra Leone.
Joseph Clinque alias Sengbe Pieh and The Amistad
In February 1839, Portuguese slave hunters seized 53 Africans in Sierra Leone and loaded them with 500 Africans from other countries en route to the United States stopping over in slave markets in Cuba.
In Cuba, they transferred the 53 onto the Spanish ship christianed La Amistad. Four days into this second lap of the trip, one of the slaves, Joseph Clinque (also known as Sengbe Pieh) freed himself.
He then freed other slaves and help to find weapons with which they killed the ship’s cook, Celesino, the ship’s captain, Ramon Ferrer. Two other captors died from their wounds while two others escaped by boat.
Two other crew members, Ruiz and Montes were spared on the promise that they would turn the ship around and sail back to Sierra Leone and drop off the slaves. Instead, they sailed to the United States.
The US Navy took the Amistad into custody in Long Island, New York in August 1839. Ruiz and Montes were freed. The surviving Africans were arrested and imprisoned at New London, Connecticut.
When the Spanish embassy claimed that the Africans wree slaves and demanded their return to Cuba, a trial ensued in January 1840. The judge ruled that the Africans were illegally brought to Cuba since Spain was bound by an agreement also signed by the USA banning the slave trade. The case was appealed to the US Surpeme Court by President Martin Van Buren.
Former US President John Quincy Adams, then a Massachusetts Congessman, represented the Africans before the US Supreme Court.
On 9 March 1841, the US Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the lower court on a 7-1 decision declaring that the captives were illegally kidnapped and were therefore free.
Funds were raised to pay for the African men and bous, and three girls to return to Sierra Leone. On 25 November 1841, the surviving Amistad captives departed from New York for Sierra Leone on the ship The Gentleman.
The British governor of Sierra Leone, William Fergusson, led Sierra Leoneans in welcoming the captives when they arrived Freedom in January 1842.
Twelve of America’s first 14 presidents owned slaves, with eight of the ten owning slaves while serving in the White House.
The two exceptions were John Adams, who was U.S. president from 4 March 1797 to 4 March 1901, and his son John Quincy Adams, who was the president of the United Started from 4 March 1825 to 3 March 1829.