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Celebrates 52 years with a Concert that Celebrates the Sounds of the City

The Amistad Research Center will mark its 52nd anniversary on Friday, Sept. 28, at the Orpheum Theater, with the “Soundtrack of New Orleans,” a concert celebrating the city’s rich musical heritage and its cultural influence in the world. 

The concert features jazz flutist and musical composer, Claudia Hayden, along with a host of renowned New Orleans musicians. Featured performers include Germaine Bazzle, Deacon John Moore, Sheila Kay Davis, Patricia Lacy, Jarell Bankston, Sharon Martin, Michaela Harrison, and the Rebirth Brass Band.

by Anitra D. Brown

The Amistad Legacy

Founded in 1966 on the campus of Fisk University, the Amistad Research Center began as a repository for the American Missionary Association as it sought a place to store its records and documents, some of which were more than 100 years old at that time

In 1961, the late Clifton H. Johnson, Ph.D., was asked to take a leave from his post as a professor at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tenn., to help organize the AMA’s massive collection of records at Fisk University in Nashville. The first collection of AMA records consisted of about 300,000 items, and Johnson’s work organizing the records became the foundation of the Amistad Research Center. The Amistad Research Center was formally established five years later in 1966 when the AMA asked him to become the director of the Race Relations Department of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries at Fisk. Through that agreement, he established the Amistad Research Center as part of the Race Relations Department.

In 1969 Amistad became an independent non-profit organization. In 1970, it relocated to Dillard University in New Orleans, where its collection began to grow beyond AMA documents and records to include materials of historical, social and cultural importance related to America’s ethnic and racial history, the African Diaspora, human relations, and civil rights.

The Center’s connection to LeMoyne-Owen, Fisk and Dillard is not at all coincidental. The three institutions are private historically Black universities founded with assistance from AMA predecessor—the American Missionary Society—an organization that also played a pivotal role in the defense of West Africans whose tortuous journey began in Sierre Leone on a Portuguese slave ship called the Tecora.  When The Tecora landed in Havana, 53 of the West Africans were sold to two Cuban plantation owners and loaded on a ship called The Amistad, which was headed from Havana to Puerto Principe, Cuba. Instead, those 53 enslaved Africans launched a successful revolt against their captors. After two months at sea, the ship was  “captured” by a U.S. Naval officer and brought to New London, Connecticut, where 43 surviving Africans were jailed and legal proceedings ensued.

The Center was named to pay homage to the legacy of those Africans who bravely fought for their freedom aboard the ill-famed ship and to honor the abolitionists who supported their case in American courtrooms, including the nation’s highest court.

Honoring the Sounds of the City it Calls Home

By the 1980s, the Center outgrew its space at Dillard and moved to the United States Mint building in the French Quarter until a termite problem forced it to again look for another home. In 1987, the Amistad Research Center reached an agreement with Tulane University that provided the Center a space to house its collection in New Orleans while also maintaining its autonomy. It has been housed at Tulane University ever since.

As the city celebrates 300 years and Amistad Research Center turns 52, paying homage to New Orleans and its unique sounds made sense to the Center’s board, says Kara Olidge, Ph.D., Amistad’s executive director.

“New Orleans’ sound is indigenous,” Olidge says. “It represents multiple ethnicities. It’s African. It’s Italian. It’s German. We wanted to celebrate the kinds of sounds that have moved this city. It’s the field songs that slaves sung that inspired the blues, jazz and R&B, the second line bands and the Mardi Gras Indian culture. We just wanted to celebrate those unique sounds because New Orleans is a global city.”

Theon Wilson and Ronald M. Carrere, Jr., are co-chairs of the event. Wilson is a practicing family law attorney with more than 40 years of family law experience. She has been recognized by New Orleans’ Magazine Best Lawyers and she is a YWCA Honoree. Carrere is the vice president of development at Liberty Bank & Trust Company. A graduate of the University of New Orleans, he is an alumnus of the Harvard Kennedy School Art and Practice of Leadership Development Program and the Norman C. Francis Leadership Institute.

The celebration will also honor several New Orleanians that have had an impact on the community. The honorees include the Marsalis Family.

Over the past two decades, the Marsalis family has helped create a new wave of interest in and appreciation of jazz music. With father Ellis as mentor, older brothers Branford and Wynton as leaders of a new generation, and younger siblings Delfeayo and Jason as rising stars, the Marsalis clan has been acclaimed through the individual recordings, performances, compositions, and educational efforts of its members.

Alden J. McDonald, Jr., CEO and President at Liberty Bank and Trust Company, is also being honored. Under Mr. McDonald’s stewardship, Liberty Bank has grown to more than $600 million in assets realizing consistent profitability and national recognition and leadership. He is also the Chief Executive Officer and President at Liberty Financial Services, Inc. Formerly, Mr. McDonald was the Chief Executive Officer and President at Liberty Bank and Trust Company (Boston, Massachusetts)

Rounding out the list of honorees is cultural bearer Vera Warren Williams, whose passion for preserving and celebrating African cultural heritage is legendary. Williams founded Community Book Center (CBC) in 1983, while working as a substitute teacher in the New Orleans Public School System. As a home-based community service, CBC has grown into a business that is “More than A Bookstore”. For over 30 years Vera and “Mama” Jennifer Turner have opened the doors of Community Book Center to many, making the beloved gathering place a literary and cultural hub.

Tickets for the concert can be purchased at eventbrite.com.

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