Cover image for Black hands, white sails : the story of African-American whalers
Black hands, white sails : the story of African-American whalers
McKissack, Pat, 1944-2017.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Scholastic Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxiv, 152 pages ; 22 cm
A history of African-American whalers between 1730 and 1880, describing their contributions to the whaling industry and their role in the abolitionist movement.
Reading Level:
1130 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 8.0 5.0 34760.

Reading Counts RC High School 9 7 Quiz: 17151 Guided reading level: NR.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SH381.5 .M38 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
SH381.5 .M38 1999 Juvenile Non-Fiction Biography

On Order



The McKissacks tell the story of brave black sailors such as Paul Cuffe, Lewis Temple, and Frederick Douglass, and their part in the whaling industry and abolitionist movement during the 1800s.

Author Notes

Patricia C. McKissack was born in Smyrna, Tennessee on August 9, 1944. She received a bachelor's degree in English from Tennessee State University in 1964 and a master's degree in early childhood literature and media programming from Webster University in 1975. After college, she worked as a junior high school English teacher and a children's book editor at Concordia Publishing.

Since the 1980's, she and her husband Frederick L. McKissack have written over 100 books together. Most of their titles are biographies with a strong focus on African-American themes for young readers. Their early 1990s biography series, Great African Americans included volumes on Frederick Douglass, Marian Anderson, and Paul Robeson. Their other works included Black Hands, White Sails: The Story of African-American Whalers and Days of Jubilee: The End of Slavery in the United States. Over their 30 years of writing together, the couple won many awards including the C.S. Lewis Silver Medal, a Newbery Honor, nine Coretta Scott King Author and Honor awards, the Jane Addams Peace Award, and the NAACP Image Award for Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman?. In 1998, they received the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

She also writes fiction on her own. Her book included Flossie and the Fox, Stitchin' and Pullin': A Gee's Bend Quilt, A Friendship for Today, and Let's Clap, Jump, Sing and Shout; Dance, Spin and Turn It Out! She won the Newberry Honor Book Award and the King Author Award for The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural in 1993 and the Caldecott Medal for Mirandy and Brother Wind. She dead of cardio-respiratory arrest on April 7, 2017 at the age of 72.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-10. This fascinating look at the convergent histories of whaling and the abolitionist movement weaves seemingly disparate threads into a detailed tapestry. The authors trace the whaling industry from its colonial New England roots through the end of the nineteenth century, establishing it within a strong political, social, and economic context. The connections they describe are illuminating, including the use of whaling ships as vehicles on the Underground Railroad and as weapons in the blockade of two Confederate harbors. Whaling was a harsh profession that offered, if not equality, at least greater opportunity for African American men. Drawing heavily from primary sources, the McKissacks celebrate the accomplishments of such sailors, captains, shipbuilders, and inventors as Lewis Temple, the blacksmith who designed the first barbed harpoon. Less-skilled readers may have difficulty following the expansive narrative that pulls in details from several different angles, but history buffs and researchers should find the book's complexity rewarding. Appended is information on whale species, a time line, and a bibliography. --Randy Meyer

Library Journal Review

Gr 6-9-A well-researched and detailed book chronicling the contributions of African Americans to the whaling industry. Many were drawn to jobs on whaling ships throughout the 1600-1800s, for while conditions were difficult, they were preferable to slavery. The authors go to great lengths to draw out the roles of African Americans, and while many of these connections are eye-opening, they are sometimes tenuous. The first half of the book, an introduction to the whales and the business surrounding their hunting, features significant men such as Prince Boston and Paul Cuffe, but also some who were less directly involved. Frederick Douglass did briefly work as a ship's caulker but many pages are devoted to describing aspects of his life that are irrelevant to whaling. Midway, the emphasis shifts to interesting aspects of life aboard ship, explaining phrases we use today that derive from whalers, superstitions of the seas, sailing songs and shanties, the story of the famous Essex, and the role of whalers in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. While the story becomes much more engaging at this point, the role of African Americans seems to have diminished importance as race is only occasionally mentioned. Overall, though, as an important and under-explored aspect of both African-American and nautical history, this book merits a place on the shelves in larger libraries and in African-American collections. However, for a more fascinating look at whaling, and one that integrates the African-American story along with the many other participants, look to Jim Murphy's Gone A-Whaling (Clarion, 1998).-Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.