From the maker of such box-office heavyweights as "Schindler'ss List" and "Saving Private Ryan," that's a strong comment. Historian Howard Jones will provide insight into the impact of Amistad in his talk, "The Spielberg Touch: Amistad as History and as Hollywood," at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 15, in Tennessee Technological University's Johnson Auditorium.
The talk is free, and the public is invited to attend the lecture as well as a free showing of "Amistad," Wednesday, April 14, at 8 p.m. in Derryberry Hall Auditorium.
Jones, history department chairperson at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa, is the author of Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law and Diplomacy (Oxford University Press, 1987, 1997). The Spielberg screenplay for the 1997 "Amistad" relied heavily on Jones' work, which was re-issued by Oxford University Press to coincide with the film's release.
The events surrounding the capture of the Cuban slave ship Amistad in 1839 led to the most famous U.S. slavery case before Dred Scott. African slaves aboard the ship managed to free themselves and revolt, slaying all of the crew except the captain and mate, who promised to steer them back to their homeland of Sierra Leone. The captain betrayed the slaves, though, and sailed to the Long Island Sound, where a U.S. navy vessel seized the Amistad, arresting the slaves.
Ultimately, the mutiny resulted in a trial before the U.S. Supreme Court, with former President John Quincy Adams defending the Africans. In a landmark decision, the court ruled to free the slaves and send them back to their homeland.
Jones' talk will emphasize the historical importance and implications of the Amistad, relating it to the movie version. As a contributor to the film version, Jones was invited to the Hollywood set to watch the filming of several scenes, as well as to the Washington premiere of "Amistad." Jones is the author of 12 books, one nominated for a 1977 Pulitzer Prize.The Amistad talk is the first in a new lecture series sponsored by Tennessee Tech's history deparment, made possible by an endowment established by John Michael Winchester, a 1975 Tennessee Tech history graduate. Winchester, a lawyer and president of Lacy & Winchester, P.C., in Knoxville, earned all-America honors as a member of the university's baseball team and was inducted into TTU's Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He and his wife, the former Patty Marie Estes, have two children, Jared Michael, 18, and Celia Claire, 13.