Assembly Passes Quijano, McKnight, & Timberlake Bill to Ensure Independence, Effectiveness of State Amistad Commission

Legislation amending state law guiding the New Jersey Amistad Commission, sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Angela McKnight, and Britnee Timberlake, cleared the full Assembly on Monday, 74-0, giving it final approval in the Legislature. The bill will now go to the Governor for further consideration.

The Amistad Commission is a 23-member panel named in honor of the enslaved Africans who gained their freedom after overthrowing the crew of the slave ship Amistad in 1839. The Commission’s mandate is to promote a wider implementation of educational awareness programs regarding the African slave trade, slavery in America and the many contributions Africans have made to American society.

Under the original statute, the Amistad Commission was established in the Executive Branch and allocated within the Department of State.  In June 2011, Governor Chris Christie issued Reorganization Plan No. 004-2011 to transfer the Amistad Commission from the Department of State to the Department of Education to improve efficiency and quality in the performance of the commission’s duties.

The bill (A-3601) would amend law creating the Amistad Commission to provide that the commission is officially allocated in but not of the Department of Education, which means the commission would be independent of any supervision or control by the department. The bill also provides that State support for the operations of the Amistad Commission would be appropriated by the Legislature to the commission through a separate line item in the annual appropriations act.

The sponsors, issuing the following joint statement, intend with this legislation to ensure the Amistad Commission maintains its independence, and the resources of the Department of Education are made available for implementation:

“The creation of the Amistad Commission was a pivotal moment in New Jersey education and the way the subject of history is taught in our schools. Finally giving teachers the tools they needed to provide more thorough, appropriate, and current lessons on African American history, the Amistad Commission continues to serve New Jersey’s teachers of K-12 grades.

     “There have been numerous stories in the news of inappropriate lessons being taught on slavery, segregation, and current black history events by uniformed educators. This should be a wake-up call that more needs to be done to ensure this doesn’t happen in New Jersey schools.

     “The inclusion of black history is unequivocally important to teaching the full picture of American history. Ensuring the Amistad Commission has the tools and financial resources it needs to create and, most importantly, raise awareness of its curriculums will be significant to furthering the mission and impact of the committee.”