Black History Celebration at National Aquarium highlights how African Americans shaped the Bay

Posted at 11:15 AM, Feb 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 08:38:51-05

The National Aquarium is hosting a Black History Month Celebration to share how African Americans shaped the maritime and seafood industries off the Chesapeake Bay.

It's been a tradition for more than 20 years and students from Baltimore County and City enrolled in the Aquarium on Wheels program will be interacting with visitors Friday night, educating them on the history of the bay.

The students were taught using Vincent Legget's Chesapeake Bay through Ebony Eyes curriculum, and learned old arts like oyster tonging that are fading away.

"Oyster tonging it's two poles, it's kind of like a scissor, so the watermen would put them down into the water, they would close them and it's like a claw, in a claw machine and then they would pick up as many oysters as they can, hand over hand and they would do that for the whole time they're out on the water, which is really intense, so they were really strong," Maria Madero, Education Specialist with the Aquarium said.

In the 1860's after the Civil War, newly freed African Americans flocked to the Bay to pick up jobs as fisherman, boat builders and processors for the day's catch.

New communities cropped up creating economic and cultural centers and making the seafood and maritime industries flourish.

The Chesapeake Bay became the country's primary source for oysters and much of that industry still exists today.

"We think knowing about the historical piece and the way that people and cultures played a role in the past is the right way to be able to spark inspiration to take care of it for the future," Jennifer Hamilton, Community Programs Manager with the Aquarium said.

The students in AOW will run the activities Friday night and perform a half hour play on the history and role of African Americans in growing maritime and seafood industries.

There will also be Morgan State University students at the event. They are working on projects regarding oyster aquaculture, and helping future generations carry on African American traditions pertaining to the bay.

The event is Friday night 5 p.m to 8 p.m. Tickets are half price.