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Norwich — The Amistad replica slave ship will make its first trip in two years up the Thames River in June as a headline attraction for the three-day Freedom Weekend to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The three-day event, to kick off June 14, will also feature the casting of Norwich's Freedom Bell, the first Emancipation Proclamation Commemorative bell in the nation, and encompass the annual NAACP Juneteenth celebration at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park.
The Amistad visit will be the first port of call made by the vessel in nearly two years after it sustained damage during a return trip from Havana, Cuba.
"It's great to have the Amistad as part of the event," said Shiela Hayes, co-chairman of the Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee, "especially during this weekend, because of the educational emphasis we want to put on this weekend with the bell and the whole voyage of the Amistad."
The original Amistad was carrying kidnapped Africans to a Cuban plantation in 1839 when the Africans revolted and seized control of the ship. Brought into New London Harbor, the incident gained national notoriety when the Africans won their freedom at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Norwich city Historian Dale Plummer, also the committee's co-chairman, said details of the Amistad's visit, such as its arrival time and public tour hours, have not yet been determined.
Plummer said the committee has been working on getting the Amistad for the Freedom Weekend event for some time but had to await U.S. Coast Guard approvals for the ship to sail upriver — and under the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge.
"The Amistad is certainly an important link in the fight against slavery," Plummer said. "Having the Amistad present is very appropriate for the bell casting for the Emancipation Proclamation Bell."
Norwich is hosting several major events in the coming months to mark the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation — President Abraham Lincoln's declaration freeing all slaves in the rebellious states during the Civil War.
In September, a celebration will mark Lincoln's announcement that southern slaves would be freed by Jan. 1. On Jan. 1, Norwich will ring all church, firehouse and other bells — including the new Freedom Bell — for an hour to mark the 150th anniversary.
The committee has contracted with the Verdin Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, a bell manufacturing company founded in 1842, to bring the company's mobile bell casting trailer to Brown Park June 14-16 to cast the 155-pound bronze Freedom Bell.
About 500 local students will participate in the casting on the morning of June 15, and the bell will be rung for the first time the next day.
The Norwich Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee needs to raise $150,000 for the casting of the Freedom Bell and erection of a permanent tower to house the bell in front of City Hall.
Donation checks can be made out to City of Norwich-EPCC and sent to Norwich City Hall, 100 Broadway, Norwich, CT 06360. Donations can also be made online at www.norwichfreedombell.com.
The committee will host a steak dinner fundraiser May 26 at the Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium, with seatings at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are available at the Norwich historian's office, 307 Main St., Norwich, and must be purchased by May 19.