(Florida International University) -The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., controversial former pastor of Barack Obama before he became president, will deliver the keynote address for Amistad Sunday worship service on March 13 at the Church of the Open Door, United Church of Christ, in Liberty City, where the Rev. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor.
The annual service calls attention to a major victory in the fight against slavery, honoring the role of the United Church of Christ in defending captive Africans who revolted on the ship La Amistad.
The ship, whose name means “Friendship,” was carrying 53 African adults and four children on July 2, 1839, around the plantations of Cuba, when one of the men, Sengbe Pieh – better known as Joseph Cinqué — led a successful revolt against their captors.
Some accounts said the ship was then bound for Africa but drifted to the United States coastline. Other accounts said Cinqué and the other former slaves demanded that they be returned to Africa but the Amistad navigator, Don Pedro Montez, tricked them into believing he was following their orders while he in fact set a course for New England. In either version, the ship was seized by the U.S. government and the Africans were put on trial.
Transporting slaves from Africa to the U.S. was illegal at that time and the owners of La Amistad claimed the Africans had been born in Cuba. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where former President John Quincy Adams represented the Africans and their abolitionist supporters, including the United Church of Christ. The court ruled that the Africans had been illegally transported and held as slaves and ordered them freed. By then, only 35 of the Africans were alive and they returned to West Africa in 1841, accompanied by members of the UCC- affiliated American Missionary Association.
That journey led to the formation of today’s United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone, which has more than 85,000 members.
The American Missionary Association continued to distinguish itself, this time in the education of African Americans, helping to start more than 500 schools, colleges, and universities in the South for blacks, Indians and other minorities.
The March 13 service is being sponsored by the Miami chapter of the United Black Christians of the United Church of Christ, which is headed by attorney Marva Wiley. The aim is to help the congregation make the connection between their faith, history and heritage, a church statement said.
Several graduates of American Missionary Association-affiliated colleges will be honored during the service. They are the Rev. Dr. Doretha Capers, Talladega College; Eloida Preston, Hampton University; JoLinda Herring, Fisk University; Delores White, Tougaloo College; Fredericka Johnson-Walker, Dillard University; Larry Handfield, Howard University; Teri Page, Atlanta University; and Gregory Major, Huston-Tillotson University.
Wright, who will preach at the service, served as senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for 36 years, including several years when now President Obama was a member of the congregation.
Remarks by Wright years earlier, on the lopsided relationship between whites and blacks in America had been caught on video and were used during the 2008 presidential campaign in an effort to discredit Obama. The candidate eventually distanced himself from his former pastor.