Amistad Research Center celebrates 50 years

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) -- The Amistad Research Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary Friday (Sept. 30) with a musical and literary event. But, the history of the archive for the history of ethnic communities and culture in the United States goes much farther back in time.

"Its history actually traces back to 1839-1841," says Christopher Harter, Director of Library and Reference Services. "And that goes back to a U.S. Supreme Court case called Amistad v. the United States."

The case dealt with 53 people, abducted in West Africa and brought to Cuba as slaves. As they fought for freedom, their case worked its way into the U.S. system and went all the way to the Supreme Court. The 1997 film Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg, is about that case. Harter says the writers did their research at the Amistad Research Center.

The group that formed from the abolitionists helping with the Amistad case started hundreds of schools for freedmen. One of those schools was Fisk University, where the Amistad Research Center began in 1966.

"This was formed during the height of the civil rights movement," points out Harter. "So, materials documenting the modern civil rights movement, from various aspects, are also key to our collection."

The archive came to New Orleans in the 1970s, first at Dillard University, then the U.S. Mint, and finally landing on the campus of Tulane University in the 1980s.

After 50 years, Harter says the Amistad Research Center is more relevant than ever: "If we take a look at all of the social justice movements that are happening today--whether those be Black Lives Matter, gay and lesbian rights--you can document the events that led up to those movements of today through the documents and through the events that happened in the past that are still relevant and can give us guidance on some of the social issues we are still struggling with today."

Friday's 50th-anniversary celebration will be at its old home, Dillard University, in the Lawless Memorial Chapel at 6:30p.m. The event is "Here I Found a Goldmine" and will include Amistad Research Center documents performed in music and in literary readings.