“one of Ernestina’s very best “Friends”

Photographers Ron Barboza and Peter Pereiera joined a group of SEMA directors and former Commissioners soon after Governor Baker signed AN ACT TO PRESERVE THE SCHOONER ERNESTINA-MORRISSEY. The group gathered last summer to recognize Tom Lopes’ role in establishing the stewardship of Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

© Ron Barboza l-r Benjamin “Benny” Tavares, Derek Stevens Family, Fred Sterner, Julius Britto, Mary Anne McQuillan, Willi Bank Photo Credit Ron Barboza

This new banner which will fly from the top of Ernestina-Morrissey‘s mainmast, was donated by Brewer Banner.

In 1977, the Foreign Minister, speaking on behalf of President Aristides Pereira said, “The Government of Cape Verde offers the Ernestina as a gift to the United States of America as an expression of the high regard of the people of Cape Verde for the people of the United States and we deliver the vessel to the State of  Massachusetts as a representative of the people of the United States.”  US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young responded; Cape Verde is to be saluted for its “generous return of a piece of our common heritage.”

Former Chairperson of the Schooner Ernestina Commission, Laura Pires-Hester recently remembered “Tom Lopes was probably one of Ernestina‘s very best “Friends”. It took several months of community and official negotiations to determine how best to receive this extraordinary gift from the newly-independent Republic of Cabo Verde. It was Tom’s legislative leadership that made it possible that the State of Massachusetts would receive the historic vessel “for the people of the United States” and that the Schooner Ernestina Commission would be formed to accomplish this. This critical milestone helped set Ernestina‘s future on a good foundation. We can honor his loving leadership by supporting Ernestina-Morrissey as she continues to sail, to educate, to cross ethnic/economic/cultural/geographic boundaries, to transform lives, and to inspire young and old.”

The Massachusetts Schooner Ernestina Commission was established in 1978 to receive official title to the returned schooner. State Representative Thomas D. Lopes, with support

Juilis Britto at memorial to Tom Lopes. © Ron Barboza

from Senator George Rogers, sponsored the enabling legislation establishing the Commission. The first Commission, appointed by Governor Michael Dukakis, included Chairman Julius Britto, currently President of SEMA, William Baker; Margaret Sibley; Kermit Morrissey and Richard Ward. Britto related that, “Tom was a calming source of encouragement for me at a time when I felt a little intimidated about the responsibility of being a State commissioner appointed to receive this gift from the Republic of Cape Verde to the people of the United States. He would always say to me ‘Julius we can do this’”.

Tom Lopes was very active telling Ernestina’s story and engaging supporters through Cape Verdean News. Lopes visited Cape Verde with CVN cable to record the work on Ernestina as well as her departure in 1982.  He later produced the film “Mystery Lady” from his Cape Verdean footage.  As the internet came into popular use, he shared his videos on his video channel.  Tom was still documenting Ernestina at the 2010 Forum and in December 2011, video-recording the masts being removed and producing YouTube videos on his channel.  He was a true advocate of Ernestina until his death in 2012.

With the recent Act to Preserve the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey, New Bedford’s legislators, Senator Mark Montigny, who introduced the bill in the Senate and Representative Antonio Cabral, who sponsored it in the House, continued Tom Lopes’ legacy.  The course of Ernestina-Morrissey’s life may be changing, as it has three times before, but New Bedford’s importance looms large, as it has since Captain Henrique Mendes brought the Effie M. Morrissey into the harbor for repairs in 1948,  seventy-two years ago, before the first voyage to Cape Verde.