Connecticut & Sierra Leone Program
Our Shared Histories workshop began on Friday, December 28, with the Americans’ arrival to their hotel in the Aberdeen section of Freetown, where they were met by their Sierra Leonean colleagues. The workshop was organized around a series of lectures led by Professor Joe Opala, who covered the early history of Sierra Leone, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the Amistad revolt, and Professor Joe Alie, who covered the twentieth century history of Sierra Leone, from the struggle against colonialism, to the post-independence era and the war years.
The group also visited prominent historical and cultural sites, such as the slaving fort at Bunce Island. This was a first time visit for both the US teachers and the Sierra Leone teachers. A tour of Freetown’s historic downtown area and historic Fourah Bay College were other highlights in a busy week.
In the final days of the workshop we traveled to Yagala, a village in the heart of the Wara Wara mountains in northern Sierra Leone. There we were welcomed with dancing and a group meeting, which seemed to have been attended by the entire village. We ended our visit there with a hike the top of the nearby Wara Wara mountain by way of a winding trail, which required some scrambling up the steep rock faces. At the summit of the mountain are the remains of an old fortified city that had been used as a refuge from the slaving parties who would raid nearby villages, looking to take captives for the slave trade.
What we hope will prove the most enduring aspect of the workshop was the opportunity for Sierra Leone and U.S. teachers to get to know one another, share classroom experiences, and discuss classroom collaborations. The group will reunite in June 2019, when the Sierra Leone teachers come to Yale University for a ten-day workshop on the “Black Struggle for Freedom, Justice and Equality.”
The summer of 2019 marked the culmination of our Transatlantic Histories program. On June 13, 2019, we had the opportunity to welcome our Sierra Leone friends to the United States. That Thursday evening Professor Joe Alie and our Sierra Leone history teachers touched down at JFK airport, where they were greeted by project coordinator Thomas Thurston. Upon arriving in New Haven the group checked into Franklin College, across the street from our Luce Hall classroom. The following evening the group was honored with a welcoming reception at President Peter Salovey and Dr. Marta Moret’s residence on the Yale University campus. It was an auspicious beginning for our workshop.
Saturday was spent visiting New Haven sites important to the Amistad case, one of the clearest connections New Haven has to Sierra Leone. After a visit to the New Haven Museum to view items from its collection related to the incident, we paid our respects to the Mende people and their struggle for freedom at the Amistad memorial near City Hall. From there we stopped at the Beinecke Library to view Amistad materials and other documents related to African American history.
That Sunday we traveled to New York City, where we attended worship services at the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, and visited historic and popular sites around Manhattan. We capped off the New York City trip with a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, taking in the New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
Professor Keisha Blain (University of Pittsburgh) was our professor for the workshop. Her course syllabus for “The Black Struggle for Freedom and Justice” covered a large span of time for a short course – from the transatlantic slave trade to the Black Power movement. In addition to Dr. Blain’s excellent set of lectures, visiting speakers included Sasha Turner, who discussed the lives of enslaved women, David Blight, who discussed the Reconstruction Era; and Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, who covered the Black Power movement. Eddie Mandhry, Director for Africa & Middle East at Yale University, spoke to the group about Yale’s Young African Scholars program and opportunities offered by Yale’s Africa Initiative. Our colleagues from Sierra Leone were also able to meet with students from the GLC’s Exploring Justice program, who were meeting in the adjoining classroom.
Activities during the week included a picnic atop East Rock Summit, overlooking New Haven and the Long Island Sound, and a memorable cruise of the Sound aboard the Amistad. On Friday, June 21, we left New Haven for Washington, D.C., where we visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington Mall, and other sites around the Capitol. A long drive back to New York City and JFK airport marked the end of a wonderful week for everyone involved.