Honoring the contributions of black whalers at the Oceanside Library


“Whaling was one of the first racially integrated industries in the United States,” Nia Adams from the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum told a small group of elementary and middle schoolers at the Oceanside Library on Jan. 25.

The presentation, made in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, highlighted the contributions of African Americans to the whaling industry off the coast of Long Island in the 19th and early 20th century. The children learned of their efforts and their sacrifices while hunting the massive sea mammals offshore for the oil in their blubber.

Adams, for example, held up a blackened hunk of metal with a sharp tip on a swivel. The toggling harpoon, or Temple’s toggle as it was known, was refined for whaling by the black inventor Lewis Temple in 1848. The design would eventually become the standard on whaling ships worldwide.

Afterwards, the kids had the opportunity to make a small pillow, with felt and yarn, emulating what housewives — the few that did live aboard whaling ships with their families — would do during the long, idle periods at sea.