Amistad Research Center

Amistad is a manuscripts library and archival repository that documents the history and culture of America's many populations, Africa, and the African diaspora. Founded in 1966, the center takes its name from a significant incident in American history, the Amistad Schooner Revolt of 1839. Singbe Pieh (later called Cinque) led Africans illegally taken from their land and destined for slave plantations in Havana, Cuba, in a revolt on a Spanish schooner called La Amistad. While attempting to return home, the Africans were tricked instead into steering toward the United States, where they were captured and put on trial. A group of Christian abolitionists took up their cause and paid their legal costs. The Africans' case wound its way through the U.S. court system, but it was not until former U.S. president John Quincy Adams argued on their behalf before the Supreme Court that the Africans finally won their freedom.

The American Missionary Association

This same group of abolitionists later formed an interracial organization called the American Missionary Association (AMA). The AMA founded hundreds of churches and schools for African Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans, Appalachian whites, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. Distinguished colleges and universities that emerged from these efforts include Atlanta, Berea, Dillard, Hampton, Houston-Tillotson, LeMoyne-Owen, Piedmont, Talladega, Tougaloo, and Fisk, where the Amistad Research Center was established under the guidance of Clifton H. Johnson.
Johnson, after completing the arrangement of AMA papers, recognized the need for an institution that would document the lives and activities of those ethnic groups with which the AMA had historically worked, specifically African Americans and other ethnic communities. Initially under auspices of the AMA's Race Relations Department at Fisk, the center was later incorporated as an independent institution with a permanent board of directors. The Amistad began with its core collection—the AMA papers, which include over 350,000 documents—and then went on to collect other important records.
During the turbulent years after World War II, the AMA established their Race Relations Department to address racism and pluralism in American society. The Race Relations Department records, incorporated into the Amistad Research Center's holdings, were among the first documents to address the issues of civil and human rights. These records give Amistad the distinction of being one of the first institutions to actively document the modern civil rights movement.

The Amistad's Holdings

Amistad arguably has the nation's premiere holdings on those participants and organizations that helped shape its progress. The collections encompass the activities of attorneys, politicians, artists, writers, and others who often placed their lives on the line. Some notable collections include the papers of New Orleans's first black mayor, Ernest “Dutch” Morial; Mississippi activist Fannie Lou Hamer; the Race Relations Information Center; U.S. Congressman William Jefferson; Michigan Senator Carl Levin; the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of New Orleans and Memphis; the original Montgomery Bus Boycott participant interviews; NAACP attorney A. P. Tureaud; former NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks; the Urban League of Greater New Orleans; the Southern civil rights litigation records; Mississippi businesswoman and activist Clarie Collins Harvey; and the AntiDefamation League of B'nai B'rith.
Amistad's literary and musical collections are unprecedented in size and scope. Researchers come from around the world to examine the papers of poet Countee Cullen, writer Chester Himes, scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, poet and human rights activist Frank S. Horne, playwright Tom Dent, and musicians Harold Battiste, Anne Wiggins Brown, Harold Swanson, William Warfield, and Camilla Williams. Amistad's holdings on Africa are also impressive in their breath and scope. They include the papers of the first organization to report on the inhuman apartheid system in South Africa, the American Committee on Africa. Established in 1948, this organization went on to document political struggles all over the continent of Africa. The center's other holdings include the papers of Operations Crossroads Africa, an organization used as a model for the Peace Corps; sociologist Victor Du Bois; and U. N. Press Corps journalist Marguerite Cartwright.
In 1994, under the direction of Clyde Robertson, director of Africana Studies for the New Orleans Public Schools, Amistad collaborated in the development of the first Afrocentric Archives in this country. Housed at the Amistad Research Center, these manuscript collections represent the leading scholars within the Afrocentric paradigm. They include the work of Molefi Kete Asante, considered the father of the Afrocentric movement, lecturer and writer Runoko Rashidi, and sociologist James L. Conyers, Jr.
Amistad also has an art collection universally accepted as the finest collection of art in the Deep South. The collection consists of 19th-and 20thcentury artists such as Edward Mitchell Bannister, Richmond Barthe, Selma Burke, Elizabeth Catlett, Claude Clark, Aaron Douglas, Vivian Ellis, Palmer Hayden, Malvin Gray Johnson, William H. Johnson, Lois Mailou Jones, Martin Payne, William Pajaud, William E. Scott, Henry O. Tanner, Hale Woodruff, and Frank Wyley. The most celebrated pieces in the collection are Funeral Procession of 1940 by Ellis Wilson and the 41 paintings in the Toussaint L'Ouverture series by Jacob Lawrence. Of these individuals, Amistad also holds the personal papers of Catlett, Ellis, Pajaud, Barthe, Woodruff, and Wyley.
The center also houses an excellent collection of African textiles made during the late 19th and early 20th centuries by artisans from the Kuba kingdom in Zaire. Other African objects at Amistad are from West, Central, and East Africa and include masks, carved figures and posts, musical instruments, calabash art, utilitarian and sacred containers and vessels, basketry, ceremonial clothing, cast metal objects and figures, and iron currency.
This is only a cursory description of the treasures housed at the Amistad Research Center. Currently residing on the campus of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, the center continues to collect, preserve, and make accessible its holdings through onsite research, public forums, publications, audio- and videotaped personal histories, digital online exhibits, and collaborative projects. With over 10 million primary source documents dating from 1780 to the present, more than 20,000 books, 1,000 runs of periodicals, 30,000 pamphlets, 1½ million news clippings, 74,000 reels of microfilm, over 300 works of art, over 600 pieces of African art, and more than 400 audio- and videotapes, Amistad can truly say it documents America's diversity.



  • Amistad Research Center
  • New Orleans
  • Afrocentricity
  • race relations
  • research centers
  • Africa


Further Reading

  • Johnson, Clifton H. A New History: An Essential Alternative to Narrow White Mythology. Journal of Current Social Issues 78–11 (1969). Johnson presents an argument in this essay for the founding of the Amistad Research Center and the development of its mission.
  • Johnson, Clifton H. A Legacy of La Amistad: Some Twentieth Century Black Leaders. The International Review of African American ArtVIII(2) 4–23. (1989). This essay looks at the production of black leaders, educators, and activists through the American Missionary Association educational institutions.
  • Johnson, Clifton H. (1990). The Amistad Case and Its Consequences in U.S. History. Journal of the New Haven Colony Historical SocietyXXXVI113–143. Johnson's essay examines the historical and legal impact the case had on American society and the issues surrounding slavery and emancipation. It is also available online at
  • Morris, Robert C. (1981). Reading, 'Riting, and Reconstruction: The Education of Freedmen in the South, 1861–1870. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. This is a history of the early freedmen schools and their impact on the education of blacks in the South.