Black History Month at the Museum includes film, poetry and groundbreaking

Silhouette engraving of Captain Paul Cuffe (1759-1817), by Mason & Maas, after a drawing by John Pole, 1812 (Cuffe did not use a second 'e' in his name). A ceremony in the Jacobs Family Gallery for a new park on the Museum grounds to be named in Cuffe's honor will take place on Saturday, February 26 at 1pm, part of Black History Month observances at the Museum.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum will observe Black History Month with a film about the life of Frederick Douglass (February 22-25), a groundbreaking ceremony honoring whaling captain, Paul Cuffe (February 26), and a talk by the award-winning author and poet, Sonja Sanchez (March 1). Admission to these events is free.

The film, Profiles in Courage: Frederick Douglass, was produced in 1965 as part of a television series inspired by John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name. Starring Robert Hook, the 50-minute dramatic film opens at a meeting of abolitionists in the New Bedford home of Nathan & Polly Johnson, and covers Douglass’ first years of freedom in New Bedford and beyond.

The rarely seen film was rediscovered by James Lopes, the Museum’s Vice President of Education and Programming. “When the book Profiles in Courage was published it did not include a chapter on Frederick Douglass. The producers of the TV series in 1965, however, felt that Douglass’ time in New Bedford was inspirational and was a story to be shared. This film has not been distributed nationally since then. I was thrilled to find it again and have the opportunity to bring it to New Bedford audiences,” Mr. Lopes said. The film will screen for four days, February 22-25 at 1:00 p.m. in the Cook Memorial Theater. Admission to the film is free.

On Saturday, February 26 at 1:00 p.m. a ceremony will honor whaling captain, Paul Cuffe, creating a park in his name at the corner of Union Street and Johnny Cake Hill. The park – located on the southwest corner of the Museum campus – is near the spot where Cuffe operated one of his many businesses. The ceremony will be held in the Jacobs Family Gallery.

Captain Cuffe’s role in the history of New Bedford and the nation is not widely known but is of great significance, according to Michael Dyer, the Museum’s Maritime Curator. “Black mariners were common in American history. Black entrepreneurs in the maritime trades of early American history, however, are almost non-existent. Captain Paul Cuffe (1759-1817) of Westport, Massachusetts was not only a successful black mariner but stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the most prominent Quaker merchants of New Bedford and Philadelphia as well as other dynamic intellects on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in the formative years of the American Republic. Cuffe’s ideals of human rights developed, enabled through his maritime merchant and whaling endeavors, growing and blossoming in the tolerant fields of Quaker New Bedford, and spreading to the shores of Africa itself. He was a much respected ship-owner, whaling master, merchant trader and man of letters whose abolitionist ideas pre-figured much that grew into the fervor of abolitionist rhetoric in ante-bellum America,” Mr. Dyer said.

On Tuesday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m., award-winning author and poet, Sonia Sanchez will speak in the Cook Memorial Theater. Ms. Sanchez has authored over a dozen books of poetry, as well as plays and children’s books. She has taught as a professor at eight universities and was the first to create and teach a course based on Black women and literature in the United States. Much of her writing explores the struggles and lives of Black America. In 1985, she was awarded the American Book Award for homegirls & handgrenades. This event is sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and the New Bedford Historical Society.

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