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John Jay Harvey Rescues Oyster Festival Tall Ships

Plans in flux for the Amistad, Oct. 13, 14, but Emancipation Proclamation will be on LI Oct. 15, 16

The fireboat John Jay Harvey is coming back to Oyster Bay for Oyster Festival 2012. She is taking the berth of the Amistad, the recreated freedom schooner that was built at Mystic Seaport’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard. The switching of ships, the Harvey rescuing the Oyster Festival planners, is because the Amistad is not in good working order. Kerry Gillick-Goldberg, festival promoter said, “We can’t count on her and the fireboat is coming back. It happened yesterday, Sunday, Sept. 30.  It was the thing I wanted most. They want to come. They are going to New York after the repairs so if by some miracle they might drop in to the Oyster Festival.”

Fredrica Gray, Amistad America board chair, said the Amistad is in Maine at present where some repairs are being made.  She said, “We do plan to be at the Oyster Bay festival.”

Gregory Belanger, Amistad America CEO and president joined their board in 2005. After a professional career of journalism, a college professor and entrepreneur, Mr. Belanger embraced the mission of Amistad, because it captures the major themes that drove his scholarship and journalist pursuits.  He was in a Boothbay, Maine shipyard on Monday, Oct. 1. The parts needed to repair the propeller had been Fed-Exed to the shipyard. The question is if the repairs can be made in time.

As a former journalist he said, “I don’t want them to do advance publicity about our coming, and then disappoint them. I told them to not count on us.” Still he said, “If things change in the next 24 hours I’ll let you know.”

Jennifer Sappell,  Oyster Festival tall ships co-cordinator said, “It’s been a busy two days. I am working on firming up the fireboat and getting all their permits squared away.”

Still, she said, if the Amistad does come it would mean significant re-juggling. As she thought about it, Ms. Sappell said, “If anything happens and Coast Guard needs their cutter, that takes precedence over the festival. If that happens there is room for the Amistad.

“If they come, we will find a way. Stuff happens with boats and people who love boats make good things happen. We love boats. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. We make things happen. Who would think the Oyster Festival would work. It’s not practical and yet we do it and people love it,” said Ms. Sappell.

The Amistad was in Nova Scotia when she damaged her propeller and on Thursday, Sept. 27, was off the coast of Maine waiting for repairs.

Everyone on the Oyster Festival committee was looking forward to seeing the Amistad especially since there was a local tie-in to their being here. Black history is also being celebrated at LIU Post in a rare public exhibit; one of the nation’s greatest documentary treasures – President Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation – will be on display at Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post, 720 Northern Boulevard, Brookville, on Monday, Oct. 15 and Tuesday, Oct. 16.

The draft document banishing slavery in America was written in Abraham Lincoln’s own handwriting in 1863. It will be on display along with the Emancipation Proclamation Centennial Commemoration Speech written and delivered in 1962 by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The public may view the documents from 1 to 9 p.m. on both days. School groups, by reservation, will receive guided tours from 9 a.m. to noon. This is the only Long Island location to host the exhibit, titled “First Step to Freedom: Abraham Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.” Admission is free and the public is invited to attend.

The Amistad took part in the Norwich, Connecticut Freedom Weekend festivities, after being out of commission for two years,  in June 2012 marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. New London, Conn., is where the African captives were tried in 1839 and freed.

The Amistad has had an imposing career. According to her website, “Since her launch on March 25, 2000, Amistad’s crew has worked with international agencies and organizations in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Europe, and West Africa in the recognition and commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in the former British Empire (1807) and the United States (1808).

Amistad has been visited by thousands of schoolchildren and has conducted more than 50 public ceremonies and sailing events that have raised the awareness of the history of Atlantic slave trade and the stories of resistance waged by black and white abolitionists.”

March 25, 2010 marked the 10th anniversary of Amistad‘s launching at Mystic Seaport. On this day, the freedom schooner sailed to Cuba as part of her 2010 Caribbean Freedom Tour which included visiting a number of island nations with histories connected to the Africa Diaspora.

Throughout her 2007-2008 Atlantic Freedom Tour, Amistad’s voyage included a special two-month stay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the original West African homeland of many of the Amistad captives. This symbolic “homecoming” was a profound experience as the crew, students, church organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the governments of Britain, the United States, and the United Nations worked together in a show of cooperation and the celebration of peace and reconciliation after the Sierra Leone civil war.