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Black Jacks

JEFF BOLSTER INTERVIEW (Continued) So these men end up being the disseminators of culture in a world in which the culture that we know has been pretty much wiped out.

Bolster: I think we actually know a lot about slavery. I mean, I might challenge you a little bit about the assumptions of that question. I think that historians increasingly know more and more about slavery and that recently there have been marvelous films on public televisions and other forms that have made us learn more about slavery. I will say, in terms of disseminating culture, that my vision of these black mariners are men who cross-pollinated a variety of communities around the rim of the Atlantic in an age when most black people were illiterate, in an age when most black communities were not linked together by either newspapers or record albums or cassette tapes. In which communication between widely dispersed people of color was by oral communication, by people who physically went from one place to another. One of the largest groups of people who moved repeatedly during the age of slavery between these widely dispersed slave communities were mariners. Of course there were valets who accompanied their masters on trips. There were slaves who were sold from place to place. But in terms of regular and repeated sorts of contacts, moving between the West Indian Islands, the Carolina low country, urban seaports like New York and Philadelphia, metropolitan capitals like London, the group that consistently emerges doing this are black sailors. So it's no surprise to me that the first six autobiographies published in English language by black men were written by mariners. It's no surprise to me that it was mariners who were disseminating particular forms of African inspired martial arts like stick fighting and head butting which we have ample evidence of from around the Atlantic. So I see men of color on these ships, whether sailing as cooks or cabin boys, whether as stewards or able-bodied seamen, whether as harpooners or petty officers aboard whale ships, I see these men as having a particular niche in the formation of African America.

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