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July 23, 2001

David Drayton, retired principal of Howard High School, and Georgetown attorney George Geer will head the steering committee organizing the upcoming visit of the Freedom Schooner Amistad to Georgetown. The Amistad will be docked at Land's End Marina from Nov. 4 to 17.

The ship, a replica of the schooner which was the scene of a historic revolt in 1839 by a group of captured Africans, will be the focus of special educational forums, discussions and other events relating to the history of the Amistad incident. In addition to the steering committee, eight other committees are being formed to ensure that the ship is fully utilized for the enlightenment and education of the local public, particularly students.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for Georgetown and for the children from throughout this region," said Drayton. "The Amistad is a symbol of freedom and it represents an important episode in American history." Drayton is chairman of Georgetown's Committee for African American Historical Observances. He is also chairman of the Board of Commissioners of the Georgetown City Housing Authority and a member of the Georgetown County AIDS Task Force. He was principal of Howard High School in Georgetown for 21 years.

In 1839, 53 men, women and children who had been captured in Africa and illegally enslaved in Cuba led a shipboard rebellion aboard the schooner Amistad (the Spanish word for "friendship"). Sixty days after the mutiny they were captured and held in Connecticut. After three court appearances culminating in the famous Supreme Court case led by John Quincy Adams in 1841, the Africans were found to be free men and women, illegally taken from Africa.

"The Amistad incident is a landmark case in the history of civil rights in America," said Geer, a partner of the Georgetown law firm Hinds, Cowan, Strange and Geer. "Our courts in 1841 recognized the rights of the captured Africans as human beings who were simply trying to regain the freedom which had been stolen from them, which was an important precedent. The visit of the Amistad is also particularly meaningful to Georgetown because so many African-Americans here trace their heritage to Sierra Leone, the region of Africa where the Amistad captives were from."

Geer is active in civic affairs in the Georgetown area and is a past chairman of the Georgetown County Board of Education.

The Amistad replica is the creation of a Connecticut-based nonprofit education foundation called Amistad America, Inc., whose purpose is to advance the lessons of perseverance, cooperation, justice and freedom inherent in the momentous historic incident. Constructed at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, the 77-foot replica was launched in the summer of 2000.

The other Amistad committees include Public Relations/Marketing, Fundraising, Hospitality/Entertainment, In-School Education, Volunteer Coordination, Community-Visitor Education/Exhibits, Harbor Logistics and Transportation/Security. Meetings are open to the public and anyone interested in serving on a committee may join.

For more information about committee meetings and other opportunities, contact Diane Gunnin, director of Cultural Promotions at Coastal Carolina University, at 349-2811.