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Black Jacks: African American Sailors in the 19th Century at Brooklyn Borough Hall

February 3, 2017 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm


The critical historic role played by black mariners in the Port of New York and Brooklyn although poorly understood is deeply relevant today. Over 25% of New York’s pre-Civil War maritime workers were black. Their story deserves to be told, especially in the port cities like New York, where their work was vital. These sailors helped to smuggle slaves to freedom and often served as a conduit for news and information. Their skills were critical to the social, educational and communications networks and mobility of black seaboard communities.

Black seafaring in the age of sail was not limited to the Middle Passage. Tens of thousands of Black seamen connected the far-flung members of the African Diaspora through their work on lofty clippers and modest coasters. Others sailed in fishing vessels, whalers, warships, and privateers. Some were enslaved, but by 1800 most were free men, seeking liberty and economic opportunity aboard ship.

Drawing on rich historical sources, and long-forgotten images, Dr. Bolster (also a professional mariner) traces the story to the period after the Civil War. Blacks actively contributed to the Atlantic maritime culture shared by all seamen in the age of sail, but were often outsiders within it. Capturing that tension, this stirring presentation examines how common experiences drew black and white sailors together, even as deeply internalized prejudices drove them apart.




Brooklyn Borough Hall
209 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201 United States
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