Martha’s Vineyard has a rich and diverse history with people of color. During Black History month, we are taking a look at different interesting parts of the story from today back through island history. This week our Black History MV series checks in with Skip Finley, in a story we’re calling Black History MV: Author, Historian, Speaker Skip Finley.
If you know Skip, you know he has worn many hats throughout his remarkable career. From owning numerous radio stations, to helping launch the careers in radio of some notable stars who are now in TV, like Wendy Williams and Steve Harvey, to writing a successful newspaper column, to the Director, Sales and Marketing at the Vineyard Gazette, and now a renowned author. There is not much that this talented man has not done.
Black History MV: Author, Historian, Speaker Skip Finley and Martha’s Vineyard
Skip’s family has been coming to Martha’s Vineyard since 1955, and he always knew this would be his home. He even brought his now-wife, Karen, to Woods Hole from Boston for a date. They sat, looking at the island, drinking a bottle of wine, talking about it becoming their home someday. Of course it did — Martha’s Vineyard had a stronger hold than the various places the couple lived, Boston, New York, DC, nothing compared to MV.
Alway writing, whether it was book-like contracts for sales or marketing for the radio satiations that he was involved with, to his popular Oak Bluffs column he wrote for the Vineyard Gazette, he loved to write. Skip is a dedicated researcher. If he catches a hint of a piece of interesting history or a story, it becomes his world. His ADHD and OCD make for an interesting combination that leads to a level of dedication to a project that very few experience.
Black History MV: Author, Historian, Speaker Skip Finley – Whaling Captains of Color
When I asked Skip about his latest book, “Whaling Captains of Color, America’s First Meritocracy,” and how he found the subject for it, he said he sort of stumbled upon it. In 2014, he was asked to write an article about a whaling captain, Captain William A. Martin, for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine. Captain Martin, from Edgartown, was an African American Whaling captain. If you’d like to read the resulting piece, “Not Your Average Ahab,” by Skip Finley, click here
Skip was intrigued. How during the time of slavery did an African American become the captain of a whaling ship? Beginning with Captain Martin, Skip’s research led to the discovery of numerous other captains of color. Not just African Americans, but also Native Americans, people from the West Indies, and more, had risen through the ranks to hold the prestigious position of captain.
When I asked Skip how it happened, he said that the person with the most experience on the boat would be captain, if the captain and other men of ranks died or fell ill. He said for many people of color, the sea was a better alternative to slavery on land. On a boat, men of all colors worked side by side. If you had a position of authority — you were respected.
Black History MV: Author, Historian, Speaker Skip Finley – Discovering 52 Whaling Captains Of Color
Through continued research, Skip discovered 52 whaling captains of color from the 200 years of whaling. Not only was he surprised but so are many others, especially those who have an interest in the history of whaling, which is extremely popular in New England.
With Skip’s book, he has allowed so many important people of color to have their place in America’s history. It’s not just Black history, it is America’s history, and those who helped shape it should be remembered.
“Whaling Captains of Color, America’s First Meritocracy” has been receiving a lot of notoriety and Skip’s name is well known in the New England historical community. He has been invited to many places to speak on behalf of the men he wrote about. To share their story with so many.
Like Skip, many people had no idea how successful men of color were during the age of whaling. To think, if Skip hadn’t written that article in 2014, would these whaling captains stories remain untold? Because of Skip, the country’s whaling history is now much richer with stories and diversity. The captains of color and their successes during a time of terrible injustice are now told.
All it takes is one person to care. One person to help us all learn and become better people because of that. Thank you Skip for your hard work and dedication and for creating the deserved legacy of over 50 men.
In addition to “Whaling Captains of Color, America’s First Meritocracy,” Skip has also written “Historic Tales of Oak Bluffs,” both of which you can purchase from his website, Skipfinley.com.
You will also find Skip’s writing in numerous publications including Cape Cod and the Islands Magazine, Wooden Boats, Sea History, and he is often a contributor to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum Quarterly, and the Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.
I wonder if with all his successes, Skip thought he would become not only a successful writer, but also a historian. I look forward to seeing his next big endeavor. It seems as though all he is missing is film on his resume.
Reading works by Black authors is only one way to celebrate the island’s diversity. There are also artists to enjoy, businesses to support, history to learn, and so much more. Thank you for reading Black History MV, a special month-long focus of We Love MV – our ongoing series capturing the spirit of Martha’s Vineyard year-round.
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