Black on the Bay, Then and Now

February 2021 • Volume 20, Number 1

Water Bound

Wendy Mitman Clarke

In the 1800s the Chesapeake Bay provided Black Marylanders opportunities and equality they did not always find on land. But laws and codes imposed by a white establishment that feared the economic and social consequences of a growing free Black population restricted these possibilities. Historical research reveals how some Black seafood entrepreneurs and mariners thrived within the system as others fell victim to it. And at least one group of Black families left Maryland’s laws behind, finding a thriving oyster industry and a welcoming community in New York, where their descendants today trace their roots to Maryland’s Eastern Shore.   more . . .

Diversity in Aquaculture

Imani Black grew up on the Eastern Shore and comes from a family of Black watermen. When she began her career in aquaculture, she rarely saw oyster farmers who looked like her. Now she has started her own organization to encourage more women and minorities to enter the field.  more . . .

A Legacy of Captains

For almost 60 years, Black captains have been leaving from Kent Narrows, their boats brimming with passengers from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, to catch croaker, perch, and spot. It’s a tradition that fathers have passed to sons, but those who do it today worry they will be the last generation.  more . . .


For 43 years, the Turner family ran one of the most successful seafood operations in Talbot County. more . . .

The Sail Artist

Enduring and renowned, Downes Curtis was one of Maryland’s only full-time Black sailmakers. more . . .

Baltimore’s Captain

With his steamboats and park, Captain George W. Brown was an indomitable Black mariner and businessman. more . . .

Meet the Extension Specialist

Shannon Hood manages the demonstration oyster farm at UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge. more . . .

Navigating the Chesapeake

Black Marylanders have always been integral to the Chesapeake Bay community, despite discriminatory laws that tried to hold them back. In this issue, we examine that history in seafood entrepreneurship, sailmaking, aquaculture, oystering, and captaining their own vessels.

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