It was a familiar sight on the streets of Los Angeles-a colorful slave ship touting a red, black, and green liberation flag that symbolized the fight for reparations.
The slave ship, a noted as a landmark in South Los Angeles, Watts and Compton, is owned by John Peoples, a reparations activist for over 50 years.
But Compton resident Peoples, 68, was stunned Friday morning when he walked outside of his home and discovered that the slave ship had been stolen.
“On Friday, I drove a friend’s SUV into Los Angeles to keep an appointment,” said Peoples, who said he left home around 9:30 a.m. “When I drove back home around 10:15 a.m., the slave ship had disappeared.”
Peoples said the slave ship is hard to miss–the wooden ship is approximately 40 feet long. “I have a sign on it that says, ‘The Black American Slave Holocaust.’ The phrase ‘Reparations in Honor of Our Ancestors’ is painted around the ship in four places,” said Peoples.
After the theft, Peoples said he contacted his neighbors to see if they had noticed anyone “suspicious” lurking near the slave ship Friday morning. “Nobody saw anything,” said Peoples, who after the theft said he immediately contacted the Compton City Hall’s code enforcement division and the Compton Sheriff’s department. “The sheriff’s department came out and made a report of a stolen vehicle,” he said.
A neighborhood witness said that he was walking by Peoples’ home on Friday morning and noticed a “fellow in coveralls” lurking near the slave ship Friday morning.
Peoples said that he checked the curb where the slave ship was parked to search for shards of glass or broken wood. “Whoever stole the ship didn’t break any glass. They just drove off with the ship,” said Peoples.
Peoples said since the ship disappeared, he has been desperately searching for the vehicle. “I’ve been walking through the neighborhood and looking everywhere,” said the activist, who said he lovingly built the ship from plywood about 15 years ago.
Peoples is well known for his staunch support of the reparations issue, often showing up at town halls, churches, and other community meetings to urge African Americans to support the issue of reparations. “I built the slave ship so that the youngsters would become knowledgeable about reparations. I also wanted them to take an interest in African American history,” said Peoples, who for years distributed packets of information on reparations which he stored in the slave ship. “I give the packets to parents so that they can share the information with their children,” he said.
Thinking about the theft, Peoples shakes his head sadly, wondering why anyone would want to steal his beloved ship. “Why would anyone be interested in taking it? It’s about our history, it’s not about me,” Peoples pointed out.
Peoples said that he has received “numerous calls” of concern and heartfelt condolences from friends and acquaintances who had heard about the theft. “A neighbor told me, “Taking the slave ship away is like taking away the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty–you can’t miss it.”
Compton activist Mollie Bell said she was outraged after finding out that the slave ship had been stolen. “Somebody probably jimmied the lock and then hot wired it to move it,” said Bell. “It’s like someone going into a museum and stealing the Mona Lisa off the wall. The slave ship is too important to us,” Bell angrily declared.
“We need to contact the federal government because the slave ship is our heritage, our history, and our legacy,” said Bell. “Whoever stole it should be prosecuted for a hate crime.”