Black Hands, Blue Seas:
The Maritime Heritage of African Americans
Previously exhibited at Mystic Seaport
For 400 years, Americans of African descent have been involved in the nation's maritime history, whether building and repairing vessels, catching fish and shellfish, or aboard merchant ships delivering cargo around the world. They also have a long tradition of service in our Navy and Coast Guard, defending a democracy that frequently treated them as second-class citizens.
Black Hands, Blue Seas: The Maritime Heritage of African Americans chronicles these contributions and tells the story of how seafaring has long been central to the economic survival and civil-rights struggles of African Americans.
In many ways, African Americans' maritime experiences of travel, work, and adventure closely resembled the experiences of other seafarers - regardless of color. Black mariners faced greater challenges and limitations, however. In return for their hard work, they hoped seafaring would give them greater freedom and equality than was available on shore. Seafaring African Americans also worked to improve conditions for those who stayed on land by speaking out against slavery, helping fugitives escape by sea, and proving that black Americans were just as capable as any others.
Black Hands, Blue Seas features art, artifacts and documents relating to the many famous black figures in maritime history, including:
From the boatbuilding traditions of West Africa to the 20th-century menhaden fishery in the Chesapeake, the exhibit also reveals the works done by long-forgotten black fishermen, stevedores, cooks, merchant mariners and Coast Guard lifesavers, whose collective labor contributed to America's maritime prominence.
A series of custom-created video and audio programs enliven the exhibit experience with songs, poetry, autobiographical excerpts, scholarly interviews and moving images that reveal the depth and breadth of the black maritime experience in the United States.
The exhibit was located in the Schaefer Exhibit Hall. It closed in March 2008.
Black Hands, Blue Seas is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Additional exhibit funding was provided by the Edgard and Geraldine Feder Foundation and the Community Foundation of Southeastern Connecticut.
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