In recognition of African-American contributions to the nation's maritime heritage, NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Murrain Associates, Inc., and the National Association of Black Scuba Divers recently launched Voyage to Discovery, a new website and education initiative. Aimed at everyone from students to adults, the Voyage to Discovery website offers feature stories, interviews, and videos about African-American seafaring achievements since the period of pre-Civil War to today.
Whaling ship Captain William T. Shorey, and his family. Photo courtesy: National Park Service.
NOAA Corps Rear Admiral Evelyn J. Fields. Photo courtesy: NOAA.
Crewman at the helm of schooner Herbert L. Rawding. Photo courtesy: Mystic Seaport.
Welders on the Liberty Ship SS George Washington Carver. Photo courtesy: National Archives.
Through the site, visitors can take a journey with the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries' Maritime Heritage Program as scuba divers embark on the program's core mission — to explore the ocean depths in an effort to identify a sunken shipwreck that best illustrates African-American maritime experience and underscores notable seafaring achievements of the past and present.
As far back as the American Revolution, black people have been involved in virtually every aspect of maritime work. Despite an uncertain and sometimes dangerous racial climate, they worked as skippers and captains as well as whalers, lobstermen, and fishermen. They also managed lighthouses, steered paddleboats and warships, and owned businesses in the sea industry. The Underground Railroad used ships to spirit slaves to freedom, and black mariners helped shaped the identity of freedman's communities.
Among the people profiled on the website include:
Captain Absalom Boston, a freeborn Nantucket Islander in 1785 who led an all-black crew aboard the whaling schooner Industry and amassed substantial real estate holdings.
Robert Smalls, a slave who became a Civil War hero in the Union Navy and served as a congressman from South Carolina during Reconstruction.
Rear Admiral Evelyn Fields, the first African-American and first woman to become director of the NOAA Commissioned Officers Corps, the nation's seventh uniformed service.
The website is part of a broader NOAA initiative to build public awareness about the legacy of African-American maritime heritage and engage a broad spectrum of Americans in the stewardship of the country's coastal and ocean resources through education, archaeology, science, and underwater exploration.