On board the Harvey Gamage schooner, students learn about African-American history | News
Put a group of people on a tall ship and watch what happens.
The differences evaporate like fog on a hot morning. On the water, it doesn’t matter where you come from, how you grew up, how much money you have or who your people are.
From the moment you step on the boat you are a sailor, nothing more, nothing less. You have a job to do, and you need to coordinate your work with everyone else. You are a member of the crew and the crew has one specific goal: to stay safe and navigate well.
The Harvey Gamage schooner is moored at the wharf at the Maritime Center and prepares to take 33 souls on an adventure through African-American history. The schooner, launched in 1973 and operated by the non-profit organization Sailing Ships Maine, offers students “ocean classrooms.” Educational efforts have primarily involved teaching sailing, but recently the ship’s operators have acquired school partners and expanded educational programming so that children on board can learn about marine sciences and some aspects of the humanities. .
The current excursion is part of a winter program for 23 youth and 10 crew members. Fourteen of the students are from the predominantly white Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, and nine children are from the predominantly black Metropolitan Regional Career And Technical Center (or MET High School) in Rhode Island.
They spend three days in Charleston visiting historic sites and learning about the Black experience. Next, they set sail for Mobile, Alabama, following a route along the Southeast Coast, around the Florida Keys and across Florida in the Gulf of Mexico to their destination.
From Mobile, they will travel by land to Montgomery and Selma, learning of the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, the 1961 Freedom Riders, the explosion of violence against civil rights protesters near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, the brutal story of the lynching told at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and the nature and scope of the civil rights movement in the South.
Alex Agnew, executive director of Sailing Ships Maine, said he plans to make this type of experience an annual winter event, using Charleston as a base of operations. And he hopes to find local partners and recruit students in the Charleston area. Already, Harvey Gamage has become a favorite school trip for students at Ashley Hall.
The challenge, said Agnew, is to find the young sailors and the sponsors. It is expensive to operate a tall ship and provide quality educational programming.
Brooks Bicknell, director of the Oceanic Classroom program at Proctor Academy, said his school has made these off-campus sailing experiences a centerpiece of the institution’s offerings. Proctor, a boarding school and day school located in Andover, has placed students on large boats for 28 consecutive years, he said.
Until recently, kids would go sailing in the fall and focus on nautical science – boating, handling lines, setting sails, watches, safety protocols and more. Winter sailing is an effort to make the opportunity available to others and to add a course in humanities studies. Hence the emphasis on the history of slavery and civil rights, Bicknell said.
The students arrived in Charleston on January 5 and settled into their bunks. The next day they spent a few hours sailing in the harbor, learning from the professional crew. That afternoon they rolled up their sleeves and got to work cleaning the deck, tidying up the lines and sails, learning how to use the fire engine and hoses, cleaning the galley and head and absorb lessons on emergency procedures.
On January 7, the group joined Gullah Tours Charleston in the morning and then visited the McLeod Plantation in the afternoon to learn about the cultivation of sea island cotton by slaves. That evening, they watched an episode of the television documentary series “The Good Road” which examines how American history is told and who is to tell it.
During the visit to Charleston, they also struck up a conversation with Michael Boulware Moore, great-grandson of Robert Smalls and former CEO of the International African American Museum.
MET High School student Dhyanne Holland, 18, said it was her first time riding a big boat and looking forward to meeting other people and learning seamanship.
“You get the real experience,” she said.
The need to work closely together for weeks at a time will certainly lead to a new appreciation for teamwork and for each other, she said.
“We are like a community,” said Holland.
Among the crew are four deckhand educators who will teach math, science and history during the voyage, Agnew said, adding that he wanted to bring the Harvey Gamage to Charleston between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and maybe every year, doing this program on historic black standard.
Annika Miller, 17, is a senior at Proctor Academy and delighted with this new collaboration. Interested in marine science, she chose to go to Proctor because of its ocean class program, she said.
That this excursion joins the study of marine science and the study of the African-American experience, and combining students from two schools only makes it better, Miller said.
But first of all, she needs to learn the vocabulary of the sailboat: halyards and staysail, gaff rig and ropes, lubber’s hole and the royal yard, vang and flagstones.
Miller and the rest of the crew are leaving this weekend. They will know the ropes at the end of their trip.