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Black Jacks


JEFF BOLSTER INTERVIEW (Continued)

SeacoastNH.com: Here we are with a book about to come out. What do you think the impact will be of this book arriving, which you say is academic, [published by Harvard Press] but readable? What do you hope the impact will be of the book?

Bolster: My challenge was to write a book that would conform to the professional standards of historians -- I am a card-carrying historian and work in a university -- but a book that would be accessible to a wider public. I may have succeeded. I was told today by the publisher that my book has been selected for the History Book Club. That's good. There's a review that's just come out for "The Library Journal" that encourages public and academic libraries across the country to buy the book. That's good. And I've already been contracted to do a number of book signings at Barnes & Noble Bookstores, museums, and other places just in the next few months because of this book.

So my sense is that there are a lot of people who are hungry for this story. My sense is there are a lot of people -- black and white -- who haven't really thought about the term "black sailor" Just the linkage of those two terms has been strange for some people -- black people because those memories have been erased, white people because [they] haven't chosen to look at it that way. So the topic, I think, has grabbed a lot of people as being fresh. It's a way to look at African American history from a new perspective. It's a way to think about the formation of Black America. It's a way to bring a fuller and more honest treatment to maritime history because, in the past, museum exhibits or placemats or statues might have lied about the racial composition of America's maritime workforce in the Age of Sail. [Now we see] men who manned those clipper ships and whaling ships, and men who manned naval vessels, crew lists and the memoirs and legal papers. They don't lie.

I've found an avalanche of material for a topic which, when I began, I was [told] "Don't try to write a book about black sailors. You won't find much material." Actually I found a cascade of material. So I think it's a story people are ready to hear all across the country --different age groups. different races -- people who are interested in the sea, people who are really just interested in Afro-America. So I think that my story is one that is able to transcend a particular or particularistic interest in things maritime or things seafaring -- and really speak to the formation of Black America.

SeacoastNH.com: Many thanks Jeff Bolster, for this interview and good luck with your new book.

OURSIDE LINK: Reviews in info about Black Jacks

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