BOOK LIST

BLACK HANDS, WHITE SAILS: THE HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WHALERS. PATRICIA C. AND FREDERICK L. MCKISSACK.

Essential canon in the growing pantheon of Black mariners’ participation in the 19th century whaling industry, abolitionist movement, and Underground Railroad.

This book is about the African-American participation in the 19th century whaling industry.  During the “golden age” of whaling (1800 - 1860), Blacks comprised 25 percent of the whaling crews.  After the Civil War and well into the last half of the 19th century, well over half the whaling crews were Black.  In addition to chronicling Blacks’ presence in the whaling industry, the authors also trace the important role played by the Black whalemen of Nantucket and New Bedford in the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.  Scholastic, New York, NY, 1999

https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/books/black-hands-white-sails-by-fredrick-mckissack/

BLACK JACKS: AFRICAN AMERICAN SEAMEN IN THE AGE OF SAIL. W. JEFFREY BOLSTER. 

This work stands out as canon in the literature of Black mariners and their contributions to the maritime trades while sailing on whalers, warships, privateers, coasters and clippers.  As mariners they sought liberty and economic opportunity aboard ship.

Bolster’s award-winning book places sailors of color squarely at the center of Atlantic maritime culture.  This stirring account reveals the critical role sailors played in helping forge new identities for Black people in America.  Seafaring was one of the most significant occupations among both enslaved and free Black men between 1740 and 1865. Tens of thousands of black seamen sailed on lofty clippers and modest coasters. They sailed in whalers, warships, and privateers. Some were slaves, forced to work at sea, but by 1800 most were free men, seeking liberty and economic opportunity aboard ship.  Because of their unusual mobility, sailors were the eyes and ears to worlds beyond the limited horizon of black communities ashore. Sometimes helping to smuggle slaves to freedom, they were more often a unique conduit for news and information of concern to Blacks. Bolster traces the story to the end of the Civil War, when emancipated Blacks began to be systematically excluded from maritime work.  Harvard University Press.  Cambridge, MA.  1997.

https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674076273

BLACK MEN OF THE SEA. MICHAEL COHN AND MICHAEL K.H. PLATZER.

This scholarly book reviews Black mariners’ roles aboard all types of vessels from fishing boats to naval ships.

Black maritime heritage, like that of other ethnic and racial groups, includes heroic exploits, voyages of discovery, the general experience of common drudgery as well as exploitation.  Cohn and Platzer examine the Black seaman’s story and his struggle against the elements as well as discrimination whether he be an African seafarer; fisherman, trader, or discoverer; participant in the slave trade; pirate or privateer; waterman; shipbuilder; deepwater seaman; coastal trader; whaler; Cape Verdean packet crew; Menhaden fisherman; or Naval, Marine, or Coast Guard serviceman.  This scholarly book relies on interviews with Black mariners, or stories recounted by the children and grandchildren.  Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1978.


https://www.amazon.com/Black-men-sea-Michael-Cohn/dp/0396075460

BLACK SAILORS: AFRO-AMERICAN MERCHANT SEAMEN AND WHALEMEN PRIOR TO THE CIVIL WAR. MARTHA S. PUTNEY.

This early work opens the doors to scholars and students about how much port records reveal about the demographics aboard ships and how Blacks held every position and rank on merchant marine and whaling vessels.

The author is among the first to dig deeply into port records and assess the demography of black seamen and whalemen in the context of U.S. History.  Putney concludes that Blacks held every position and rank on merchant marine and whaling vessels.  To many, the sea provided employment, not the most desirable, but employment that they could not find elsewhere in the nation’s economy.  A few found the sea as an avenue of upward mobility.  A small number became shipmasters.  Even fewer held the ranking positions on mixed crews.  Occasionally, some became shipowners and accumulated significant wealth.  Putney’s is a study of the important role Black whalemen and merchant marines played in the economic development of the U.S. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1987.


https://www.amazon.com/Black-Sailors-Afro-American-Merchant-Contributions/dp/031325639X

THE WATERMAN’S SONG.  DAVID S. CECELSKI.

This is the first major study of slavery in the maritime South, and shows the vitality of free Black fishermen, pilots, rivermen, sailors, ferrymen and others who labored on North Carolina’s waterways.

The first major study of slavery in the maritime South, The Waterman’s Song chronicles the world of slave and free black fishermen, pilots, rivermen, sailors, ferrymen, and other laborers who, from the colonial era through Reconstruction, plied the vast inland waters of North Carolina from the Outer Banks to the upper reaches of tidewater rivers.  Demonstrating the vitality and significance of this local African American maritime culture, David Cecelski also reveals its connections to the Afro-Caribbean, the relatively egalitarian work culture of seafaring men who visited nearby ports, and the revolutionary political tides that coursed throughout the black Atlantic.

Black maritime laborers played an essential role in local abolitionist activity, slave insurrections, and other antislavery activism.  They also boatlifted thousands of slaves to freedom during the Civil War.  Most importantly, according to the author, they carried an insurgent, democratic vision born in the maritime districts of the slave South into the political maelstrom of the Civil War and Reconstruction. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C.  2001.

https://uncpress.org/book/9780807849729/the-watermans-song/

THE AFRO-LATIN DIASPORA.: AWAKENING ANCESTRAL MEMORY, AVOIDING CULTURAL AMNESIA.  JAMEELAH XOCHITL MEDINA.

Afro-Latin Americans will be inspired by this work.

This is Medina’s personal contribution to combating the invisibility of the Afro-Latin American community and its numerous contributions and historic heroes.  The book is written as a documental detour, in hopes of avoiding the cultural and historical amnesia of an entire people while awakening pride and the sense of ancestral accomplishment among young Afro-Latinos in the USA.  She hopes that Afro-Latins of the Americas will enter into the future with confidence, self-acceptance and self-assurance, as well as with the bravery and valor of the many forgotten Afro-Latin American heroes, the Maroons.  AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN. 2004.

https://www.amazon.com/Afro-Latin-Diaspora-Awakening-Ancestral-Avoiding/dp/1418428590

TIME FULL OF TRIAL: THE ROANOKE ISLAND FREEDMEN’S COLONY 1862-1867.  PATRICIA CLICK. 

This work uncovers the story of a Civil War Black refugee settlement on Roanoke Island, Virginia that grew to nearly 3,500 by 1865.

This study tells the story of the Roanoke Island freedmen's colony from its Civil War contraband-camp beginnings to the conflict over land ownership that led to its demise in 1867. In February 1862, General Ambrose E. Burnside led Union forces to victory at the Battle of Roanoke Island. As word spread that the Union army had established a foothold in eastern North Carolina, slaves from the surrounding area streamed across Federal lines seeking freedom. By early 1863, nearly 1,000 refugees had gathered on Roanoke Island, working together to create a thriving community that included a school and several churches.  The settlement grew to nearly 3,500 by 1865, through a plan that included education, small-scale land ownership, and a system of wage labor.  The University of North Carolina Press. Chapel Hill and London. 2002.

https://uncpress.org/book/9780807849187/time-full-of-trial/

UNHERALDED BUT UNBOWED: BLACK SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS WHO CHANGED THE WORLD. GARLAND L. THOMPSON.

This book is an attempt to show that not only is technology relevant, its study and career paths open vistas of continuing success for the active, questioning minds of Black youth. 

The role of the Black scientist or engineer will never be fully understood by examining it in narrow, limiting ways, as if science and technology somehow existed apart from the tumult and clash of social policy, played out in the larger arenas of society.  The Black scientist or engineer is every bit as much a part of the Black community as the Black athlete, entertainer or preacher, and every bit as much a player in the scramble to boost its progress.  This book is an attempt to show that not only is technology relevant, its study and career paths open vistas of continuing success for the active, questioning minds of Black youth.  The main material for this book – reports of discoveries, inventions and innovative processes – was culled from the archives compiled by Career Communications Group from corporate citations to the Selection Panel for the Annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards.  In these, corporate officers made the strongest arguments each could muster about the value to their companies – often to entire industries – of the achievements of the Black go-getters driving their product lines and profits, to show the candidates’ worthiness for recognition.  Garland L. Thompson, Baltimore, MD. 2009.

https://www.amazon.com/Unheralded-but-Unbowed-Scientists-Engineers/dp/1448673836

WHALING CAPTAINS OF COLOR:  AMERICA’S FIRST MERITOCRACY.  SKIP FINLEY.

Finley culls stories from the lives of over 50 black whaling captains to create a portrait of what life was like for these leaders of color on the high seas.

Working with archival records at whaling museums, in libraries, from private archives and interviews with people whose ancestors were whaling masters, Finley culls stories from the lives of over 50 black whaling captains to create a portrait of what life was like for these leaders of color on the high seas.

The history of whaling as an industry on this continent has been well-told in books, including some that have been bestsellers, but what hasn't been told is the story of whaling's leaders of color in an era when the only other option was slavery. Whaling was one of the first American industries to exhibit diversity. A man became a captain not because he was white or well connected, but because he knew how to kill a whale. Along the way, he could learn navigation and reading and writing. Whaling presented a tantalizing alternative to mainland life.  Finley explains how this skills-based system propelled captains of color to the helm.  Naval Institute Press.  Annapolis, MD. 2020.

https://www.skipfinley.com/whaling-captains-of-coloramericas-first-meritocracy

A MOST BEAUTIFUL THING: THE TRUE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST ALL-BLACK HIGH SCHOOL ROWING TEAM.  ARSHAY COOPER.

An inspiring memoire set in the 1990’s about the first all-Black high school rowing team and a critically-acclaimed documentary.

Having no idea what the sport of crew is, Arshay Cooper, decides to take a chance and join the crew team that is being introduced to his high school on Chicago’s West Side.  His decision to join is one that will forever change his life, and those of his fellow rowers.  As Arshay and his teammates begin to come together to learn how to row – many never have been in the water before – the sport takes them from the mean streets of Chicago to the hallowed halls of the Ivy League.  But Arshay and the team face adversity at every turn: racism, gang violence, and a sport that has never seen anyone like them before.  A Most Beautiful Thing is Arshay Cooper’s inspiring memoir about the most unlikely band of brothers that form a family and forever change a sport and their lives for the better.  Flatiron Books, New York, N.Y.  2015.

https://www.amostbeautifulthing.com/book/

BLACK COMPANY: THE STORY OF SUBCHASER 1264.  ERIC PURDON. 

The story of the Navy’s first full crew of enlisted Blacks aboard a subchaser.

This is the true story of a 1940’s U.S. Navy social experiment aboard Subchaser PC 1264 with its inexperience crew of sixty-three men – five white officers and fifty-eight enlisted Black men.  Not since the end of WWI had Blacks been permitted to serve in the U.S. Navy in any capacity other than as mess attendants.  During WWII, ships were being built faster than men could be trained, and the Navy desperately needed manpower.  This is the story of the commanding officer, fearful that his inexperience would jeopardize the aspirations of an entire people; of the crew, quick to resent a slur and quicker to charm an inspection party; proud of their uniform and the effect it had upon women; of a young Ensign, starting a career that would make him the first Black Rear-Admiral in the United States Navy (Samuel L. Gravely, Jr.); of al the ship’s company – their reactions during submarine contacts, on convoy, on patrol in the North Atlantic in the depth of winter, and on liberty; a story of their hopes and dreams discussed under star-studded southern skies.  Nowhere in the annals of Black or Naval history is the story of this experiment to be found – this experiment which was directly responsible for the more rapid integration of Blacks into the U.S. Navy.  Robert B. Luce, Inc., Washington – New York. 1972.


https://www.abebooks.com/9781557506580/Black-Company-Story-Subchaser-1264-1557506582/plp

DARK COMPANION: THE STORY OF MATTHEW HENSON, THE FIRST GREAT NEGRO EXPLORER, HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH PEARY, AND THEIR EPOCH-MAKING DISCOVER OF THE NORTH POLE.  BRADLEY ROBINSON AND MATTHEW HENSON. 

This book reveals the full significance of Matthew Henson’s achievements and contributions to reaching the North Pole.

This is the fantastic story of an 18-year friendship between U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and explorer and Matthew Henson, which transcended the color line to prove that equality among men is a matter of the heart and spirit … not of skin.  Despite perils and repeated failures in the North and ridicule at home, Peary knew that one day he would reach the Pole.  He knew also that the only man who could help him was Henson.  Until this book, the true story of Matthew Henson, who with Peary discovered the North Pole, has been hidden behind a veil of color bias and official indifference.  This book reveals the full significance of Henson’s achievement.  Revised Edition. Fawcett World Library, New York, N.Y. 1972.

https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Companion-Story-Matthew-Henson/dp/B000UZUCWQ

TRAILBLAZER:  THE U.S. NAVY’S FIRST BLACK ADMIRAL, VICE ADM. SAMUEL L. GRAVELY JR., USN.  PAUL STILLWELL WITH AFTERWORD BY ALMA B. GRAVELY. 

The biography of the U.S. Navy’s first Black Admiral.

Vice Admiral Samuel L. Gravely Jr. was commissioned in 1944, promoted to admiral in 1971, and retired from the Navy in 1980 after having commanded 100 warships and 60,000 Sailors and Marines while based at Pearl Harbor.  He was African Diaspora Maritime’s first Chairman of the Board.  He died in 2004.  This thoroughly captivating memoire recounts the life and career of the soft-spoke and modest man who succeeded in opening the flag-officer rank of the U.S. Navy to African Americans.  He combined love for the service with respect for its traditions, and he understood that the key to success lay in seeking out the most challenging duty assignments and performing beyond expectation.  By gaining the confidence of his white superior officers – many of whom he acknowledged as role models – he modeled how other African American officers could advance through the commissioned ranks, to the betterment of their careers and the naval service.  Naval Institute Press.  Annapolis, MD. 2010.

https://www.usni.org/press/books/trailblazer

THE INTERESTING NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF OLAUDAH EQUIANO, OR GUSTAVUS VASSA, THE AFRICAN. WRITTEN BY HIMSELF. VOL. I.  OLAUDAH EQUIANO.

This is a memoir written by Olaudah Equiano, an influential African advocate of abolishing the slave trade in Britain during the late 18th century. It was so popular that it went through nine printings in his lifetime.

This autobiography chronicles the life of a boy kidnapped and sold into slavery in the mid-18th century.  With much of his time in slavery spent serving on British navy vessels, Equiano learned English, perfected a host of other skills, and traveled the world.  Despite his value to his masters, Equiano is sold from time to time.  Eventually, he learns to trade goods as he sails from port to port.  He is resolved to purchase his freedom.  Equiano published his autobiography in 1789, and traveled throughout Great Britain as an abolitionist and author.  He died in 1892.  Published in the US in 1891 by W. Durrell.  Edited and with notes and an introduction by Vincent Carretta and published by Penguin Books in 1995.  Revised edition 2003. New York, NY.

https://www.amazon.com/Interesting-Narrative-Gustavus-African-Himself/dp/1379412528

UMBALA: THE ADVENTURES OF A NEGRO SEA-CAPTAIN IN AFRICA AND ON THE SEVEN SEAS IN HIS ATTEMPTS TO FOUND AN ETHIOPIAN EMPIRE. CAPTAIN HARRY DEAN AND STERLING NORTH.

Captain Harry Dean’s memoire (1864 – 1935).  The title says a lot.  The book reveals much more.

This is the story of Harry Dean (1864 – 1935), who sailed around the world before he turned 16, and had his own ship by the age of 30.  This grandson of Paul Cuffee, a prominent Black American radical and seaman passionately encouraged trade between the Black New World and Africa.  Dean persisted in his efforts to widen Black Americans’ vision of Africa and increase the self-respect of people of the African diaspora.  A good adventure story, by a remarkable man, written under remarkable circumstances.  Umbala was first published in the U.K. in 1929, Introduction by George Shepperson, Pluto Press, Winchester, MA , 1989.

https://www.abebooks.com/first-edition/Umbala-Adventures-Negro-Sea-Captain-Africa-Seven/11879185729/bd

A GENTLEMAN OF COLOR; THE LIFE OF JAMES FORTEN. JULIE WINCH. 

A rewarding read about an important figure in African-American history – one of Philadelphia’s 19th century leaders.

This is the biography of the founder of the most important African-American family in 19th century America.  James Forten was born in 1766 into a free Black family.  He served in the Revolution and was captured by the British.  By 1810 he was a leading sailmaker in Philadelphia, PA.  Not only a shrewd manager and businessman, Forten emerged as a leader in Philadelphia’s Black community, where he fostered reform.  He was especially prominent in national and international antislavery movements, and served as vice president of the American Anti-Slavery Society.  The biography is highly praised for the exhaustive research it contains as well as for richly illuminating the political, social, and economic life of America’s first generations and a remarkably successful African American who commanded whites’ respect, and who never lost faith in a racially integrated America, despite confronting discrimination and slavery on a daily basis.  Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, NY. 2002.

https://www.amazon.com/Gentleman-Color-Life-James-Forten/dp/0195163400

CHARLES BENSON: MARINER OF COLOR IN THE AGE OF SAIL.  MICHAEL SOKOLOW. 

The author uncovered a diary full of rich detail about the life of a Black mariner during the mid-19th century.

Sokolow shares Charles A. Benson’s detailed diary, a fascinating narrative documenting his experiences and feelings as a career mariner for nearly two decades in the mid-19th century.  Benson’s personal writings reflect a life marked by economic struggle, marital conflict, the social ambiguities of mixed-race heritage, and the desire to forge his own identity even as he labored under the strictures that severely limited opportunities for Blacks.  Benson is distinctive among 19th century mariners and Black mariners for the detailed diary he kept.  Undeterred and despite odds, Benson eventually became a respectable husband, provider worker, and member of the Black community.  This work provides one of the best insights of what life was actually like for thousands of 19th-century Americans who made their living on the seas.  University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst and Boston, MA. 2003.

https://www.abebooks.com/9781558494091/Charles-Benson-Mariner-Color-Age-155849409X/plp

PAUL CUFFE: BLACK ENTREPRENEUR AND PAN-AFRICANIST. LAMONT D. THOMAS. 

The biography of a remarkable man and the patriarch of a dynasty of Black mariners from New England.

The author presents a meticulously researched and believable portrait of the most important Black American leader before Frederick Douglass.  Paul Cuffe was a Black American entrepreneur and philanthropist who forge important links between American and British reformers and who helped articulate the tensions and ambiguities of an emerging Afro-American identity.  Illini Books, 1988.

https://www.amazon.com/PAUL-CUFFE-Entrepreneur-Pan-Africanist-Blacks/dp/0252060342

PROFESSOR JIM.  C.H. PROCTER. 

The biography of Jim Williams; Black slave, servant, adventurer, janitor and unlettered “Professor Jim: of Trinity College.

The author presents a meticulously researched and believable portrait of the most important Black American leader before Frederick Douglass.  Paul Cuffe was a Black American entrepreneur and philanthropist who forge important links between American and British reformers and who helped articulate the tensions and ambiguities of an emerging Afro-American identity.  Illini Books, 1988.

https://www.amazon.com/PAUL-CUFFE-Entrepreneur-Pan-Africanist-Blacks/dp/0252060342

WILLIAM ALEXANDER LEIDESDORFF: FIRST BLACK MILLIONAIRE, AMERICAN CONSUL AND CALIFORNIA PIONEER.  GARY MITCHELL PALGON. 

The amazing biography of the first Black American diplomat and one of San Francisco’s early leaders.

Born out of wedlock in St. Croix to a Jewish Danish sugar merchant and a Black plantation worker, William Alexander Leidesdorff’s journey took him to New Orleans and then to Yerba Buena, the Mexican town that would later become San Francisco.  He became a successful merchant, launched the first powered schooner on San Francisco Bay, held the first horse race in the state, had the only house in San Francisco with a flower garden, and became the county’s first Black millionaire.  He also became involved in U.S. politics and was appointed the Vice-Counsul of the United States to Mexico making him the first Black American diplomat.  Leidesdorff also became the San Francisco city treasurer, and, as a member of the San Francisco City Council, he donated land and then authorized building the first public school.  Atlanta, GA. 2005.

https://www.amazon.com/William-Alexander-Leidesdorff-Millionaire-California/dp/1411646258

FRAGMENTS OF THE ARK.  LOUISE MERIWETHER. 

Fiction based on the story of Robert Smalls who commandeered the USS Planter in Charleston harbor and steered it past the Confederate defenses to the safety of the Union Navy in May of 1862.

A rich and deeply moving novel recounting the story of a South Carolina slave whose daring Civil War escape from Confederate Charleston to the Union Navy brings him face to face with his freedom, and closer still to his own soul.  In the maelstrom that was the siege of Charleston, Peter Mango – ship pilot, husband, slave – spied a chance to slip from the shackles that both bound and sundered his family.  He and a group of resolute runaways assembled under the cover of night to attempt to steal and deliver the gunboat Swanee to the Union Navy, running the gauntlet of massive Confederate forts that choked the route out of Charleston harbor.

Peter Mango rises to the rank of Captain in the Union Navy, where is surrounded by the ramparts of white prerogative, and haunted by the ever-present specter of facing his former masters.  As Peter and his brothers-in-arms fight on behalf of family still kept behind Confederate lines, they were forced to navigate not only the treacherous waters of the South Carolina Sea Islands, but also the terrain of their inhuman experience – the legacy of children born of waking nightmares, and the bargains that their women were forced to strike with God.  Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. New York, NY.  1994.

https://www.amazon.com/Fragments-Ark-Louise-Meriwether/dp/1423357833

SONG YET SUNG.  JAMES MC BRIDE.

This novel provides a good picture of slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore where the waterways were the fastest mode of transportation.

McBride is excellent on the unusual social nuances of the backwater that was Maryland’s antebellum Eastern Shore, where large-scale plantations (and the crops to support them) were few and far between. Most masters owned no more than a handful of slaves, on terms likely to include a quasi-familial intimacy. Many of the Chesapeake Bay watermen owned no slaves at all and took a dim view of the whole system, for reasons of religion or just libertarian temperament. The free black population was significant, especially in towns like Cambridge, which, in the isolation of 1850, could pass for a metropolis.

In the days before the Civil War, a group of slaves breaks free in the labyrinthine swamps of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, setting loose a drama of violence and hope among slave catchers, plantation owners, watermen, runaway slaves, and free blacks.  Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House.  New York, NY.  2008.

https://www.jamesmcbride.com/song-yet-sung/

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE SEA: THE LIFE OF JAMES FORTEN.  BRENDA A. JOHNSON. ILLUSTRATIONS BY DON MILLER.

An exciting, fast-paced biography of James Forten – a mariner, sailmaker, and 19th century civic leader.

This is an exciting, fast-paced biography of James Forten, a man of many talents and boundless energy.  As a free Black, Forten found adventure at sea during the American Revolution, was a master sailmaker, owed a sail loft, and was one of Philadelphia’s wealthiest citizens in the early 19th century.  He was dedicated to wining freedom and equality for all Blacks and was an abolitionist, worked on the Underground Railroad, and a champion for education for all.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.  New York, NY. 1974.

https://www.abebooks.com/signed-first-edition/Devil-Sea-Life-James-Forten-JOHNSTON/449042060/bd

ROBERT SMALLS SAILS TO FREEDOM.  SUSAN TAYLOR BROWN.  ILLUSTRATIONS BY FELICIA MARSHALL. 

The story of Robert Smalls commandeering the USS Planter and steering beyond the Confederate defense and to freedom with the Union Navy.

Robert Smalls, a Southern slave, takes his master's ship in the dark of night and sails across Charleston Harbor to where the Northern Army would grant him freedom.  Millbrook Press. Minneapolis, MN.  2006.

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/susan-taylor-brown/robert-smalls-sails-to-freedom.htm