Contact:

Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky, Executive Director, New Haven Museum

203-562-4183, ext. 20, matockarshewsky@newhavenmuseum.org

Julie Winkel, Media Specialist,                                                                                                             

203-815-0800, jwinkel@live.com          

Former Amistad Captive Will

Share Her Story at New Haven Museum

New Haven, Conn. (February 9, 2024) – Sarah Margu was just nine years old when she was sold into slavery, marched 80 miles to the West African coast, held in the notorious Dunbomo slave pens, and then trafficked to Cuba. In 1839, Margu was one of four children among the 53 captives aboard the schooner La Amistad, headed toward a life of slavery until they led a rebellion to protect their freedom. Following the revolt, and seizure of the Amistad, the captives were imprisoned in New Haven. As portrayed by the Executive Artistic Director of Hidden Women Stage Company Tammy Denease, Margu will share her story at the New Haven Museum on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at 3 p.m. This free NH250 event will also stream on FB Live. Register here.

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court ruled that the Amistad captives  had been illegally enslaved and had thus exercised a natural right to defend their freedom. Margu’s first-person presentation, “Sarah Margu: A Child of the Amistad,” will share the moving details of her journey, her life in the Northeast, and what is today, Sierra Leone, and how she became the first African to graduate college in the United States. Margu will discuss how she became a deeply conflicted woman rooted in two different cultures, on two different continents. 

After gaining her freedom through the landmark legal victory in 1841, Margu lived in Farmington, Connecticut, and was educated by abolitionists. She was one of the 35 Amistad survivors who returned to their homeland. In 1846, 14-year-old Margu returned to the United States, and later graduated from Oberlin College, the first U.S. college to admit Black students.

Noting that many people are aware of the legal aspects of the Amistad saga, Denease says that she will share the human side of the story. “After my performances people have a different outlook and appreciation for the Amistad captives as being human, and not just cargo.”

Denease was born in Columbus, Mississippi, where she spent countless hours with her great-grandmother, a former enslaved person, and her grandmother. Both women were centenarians and noted storytellers. Denease’s upbringing instilled in her a passion for history. As a storyteller in her own right, she brings history to life, taking viewers back in time to better understand the past, and how it led to the present. Denease specializes in strengthening public appreciation for noteworthy black women, holding her enlightening presentations at museums, schools, and historical sites across New England. As outreach director of the Connecticut Freedom Trail she teaches children colonial history, health, medicine, and slavery and Native-American history. 

Visitors may also view the museum’s updated Amistad exhibition. The revitalized exhibition centers the experiences of the captives—their resistance to enslavement and their collective action to determine their own lives. The exhibition also focuses on New Haven as the site of their incarceration, and abolitionist organizing throughout the legal process, leading to the landmark Supreme Court decision. On display are historic and contemporary artistic representations of Amistad that convey the power of the arts to raise awareness and shape collective memory.

The museum’s distinguished Amistad collection includes Nathaniel Jocelyn’s renowned portrait of Sengbe Pieh, leader of the revolt (referred to as Cinqué by enslavers and in court records), a painting of the schooner La Amistad from 1839, a letter from Kale, one of the children of the Amistad, a letter from John Quincy Adams, who argued successfully on behalf of the Amistad prisoners before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Hale Woodruff’s 1939 original studies for the Amistad murals at Talladega College. New items from the museum’s collection will be displayed when the exhibition opens.

About Tammy Denease

Denease is the outreach director of the Connecticut Freedom Trail. As the owner of Hidden Women, LLC, she is a diversity, equity and belonging consultant for historical organizations. In her role as the executive artistic director of Hidden Women Stage Company, she is a writer, producer and director of historical period plays. She has been a museum educator and guide for 20 years and is a certified interpretive guide. She also serves on the Connecticut League of Museums Board of Directors.

About NH250

This event is part of NH250, an ongoing series of programming developed by New Haven Museum to complement “America 250.” Culminating with the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, the series will highlight inclusive, local, and lesser-known stories, connecting past and present. 

About the New Haven Museum

The New Haven Museum has been collecting, preserving and interpreting the history and heritage of Greater New Haven since its inception as the New Haven Colony Historical Society in 1862. Located in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue, the Museum brings more than 375 years of New Haven history to life through its collections, exhibitions, programs, and outreach. As a Blue Star Museum, the New Haven Museum offers the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, free admission all year. For more information visit http://newhavenmuseum.org  or @NewHavenMuseum or call 203-562-4183.

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