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How They Got Over

How They Got Over

by Eloise Greenfield, Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Illustrator)

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African Americans have been drawn to the sea for hundreds of years. In this collection of biographies, Eloise Greenfield examines how that connection to the sea has influenced generations of African Americans — from a shipbuilder-businessman during the American Revolution to the first woman and African American to hold the highest-ranking position in the


African Americans have been drawn to the sea for hundreds of years. In this collection of biographies, Eloise Greenfield examines how that connection to the sea has influenced generations of African Americans — from a shipbuilder-businessman during the American Revolution to the first woman and African American to hold the highest-ranking position in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps. The lives of the extraordinary men and women included here create a stirring image of the powerful tie between African Americans and the water that has both bound them and set them free. Jan Spivey Gilchrist's artwork is as evocative as the profiles of the people it illustrates.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Taking the title from the gospel song "How I Got Over," Eloise Greenfield discusses, through 13 biographies, how African-Americans "were able to get on with their lives, in spite of pain, grief and enormous obstacles" in How They Got Over: African Americans and the Call of the Sea, illus. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Paul Cuffe, an African-American shipbuilder, a member of the American Colonization Society and a founder of a colony for free blacks in Sierra Leone, leads the way. A wide range of individuals people the volume, including Rear Adm. Evelyn J. Fields, who holds the highest position in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, and Alex Haley, who joined the U.S. Coast Guard at age 17 and, the author asserts, "became a writer during his life at sea, and at least partly because of it."
School Library Journal
Gr 3-5-Eight seafaring African Americans from the last 250 years are profiled: Paul Cuffe, James Forten, Robert Smalls, Matthew Henson, recreational scuba diver Shirley Lee, Evelyn Fields of NOAA, and Michelle Howard of the U.S. Navy. The title refers not to their crossing the ocean, but to the meaning in the gospel song "How I Got Over"-in other words, how they pushed on with their lives, "in spite of pain, grief and enormous obstacles." A full-page, black-and-white drawing of each individual accompanies the text. Following the profiles are "snapshots," or spreads, that introduce Langston Hughes, Alex Haley, Samuel L. Gravely, Jr., Carl M. Brashear, Albert Jos Jones, and William Pinkney. A "montage" highlights African-American involvement with the sea, be it as Civil War sailors or Pea Island Station Lifesavers. The bibliography is extensive. The open layout, generous type size, and engaging writing make this a good choice for reports.-Diane S. Marton, Arlington County Library, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A series of sketches, some sketchier than others, attempts to bring to a child audience a number of African-Americans who have had some relationship with the sea. Figures from history—Paul Cuffe, James Forten, Matthew Henson—share space with more contemporary and less well-known figures—deep-sea diver Shirley Lee, NOAA administrator Rear Admiral Evelyn J. Fields, Naval Commander Michelle Janine Howard. These "Profiles" are followed by a series of "Snapshots"—brief page-and-a-half entries on such individuals as Langston Hughes and Alex Haley which emphasize their sea-going sides—and then a brief "Montage" of paragraph-long blurbs on other African-American involvements with the sea. The organizational concept is novel, but that’s where the novelty ends. The relative unevenness of coverage gives the whole a somewhat scattershot effect and mostly tantalizes rather than informs with the briefer entries. There is very little indication in this offering that Greenfield (Honey, I Love, above, etc.) is a poet: short, choppy sentences rarely attain a level of beauty higher than bland. As nonfiction, it reads like a very old-fashioned example of the art. Despite allusions in the text to diaries and letters, primary-source material makes no appearance; neither, with one exception, are there quotes from any of the living figures profiled. Combined with the generally undistinguished language, this makes for an essentially passive text. Frequent collaborator Gilchrist (as above) provides black-and-white portraits of the individuals represented at the beginning of each chapter. A bibliography and index (not seen) round out this uninspiring biographical collection. (Biography.8-11)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
7.25(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Paul Cuffe
1759 - 1817

The pirates were chasing him, their boat not far behind his, as he sailed out into the ocean. The young man, Paul Cuffe, raced toward Nantucket Island, but the pirates caught up with him and took all his cargo, the items he was hoping to sell in Nantucket at a profit. He returned home to Dartmouth, Massachusetts, to start again. He had to buy all new items to sell on his next attempt.

Almost since his birth, in 1759 on Cuttyhunk Island, just off the coast of Massachusetts, the sea had been a part of Paul Cuffe's life. His father, Kofi, had been a small boy, only ten years old, living in Ghana, Africa, when he was kidnapped, taken to America and sold. He was bought by the Slocum family, of Dartmouth, who belonged to the Society of Friends religion, often called Quakers. Koh's name was changed to Cuffe Slocum.

Some years later, as Quakers became more and more opposed to slavery, Cuffe Slocum was freed. In 1746, he married Ruth Moses, a Native American of the Wampanoag Nation. The husband and wife earned a living by farming, and over time, they moved to several different places in the area, including Cuttyhunk, finally purchasing a farm of more than a hundred acres in Dartmouth. They had ten children. Paul was the youngest boy and the fourth youngest child.

Cuffe Slocum, the father, taught himself to read and write. He and his wife continued to farm while he built a successful business as a carpenter and builder, hauling items to customers by boat. It was a family business -- the children helped, and Paul became very familiar with the workings of boats.

When Paul was about thirteen years old,his father died. The following year, Paul signed on to sail as a crew member of a whaling ship. When that voyage ended, he signed on with cargo ships for other voyages. But the waters were not safe. Americans who had migrated from England no longer wanted to be ruled by British kings, and they had begun their war for independence, the American Revolution, much of it taking place on the sea.

On one of Paul's trips, his ship was captured by the British. He and the other sailors were taken to a British prison. After a few months, they were released because the prison was overcrowded, and were able to return home. At some point during these years, Paul changed his name. Taking his father's first name, Cuffe, as his last, and dropping Slocum, he became Paul Cuffe.

Paul and one of his brothers began building boats and sailing to places that were not more than several hours away, to sell and trade their cargo. Because of the dangers from British ships and pirates, Paul's brother went back to farming, but Paul continued shipping. And that's when he was caught by pirates off Nantucket.

The task was to get from one place to another without being seen by either British ships or pirates. Sometimes Paul sailed at night. He was robbed more than once by pirates, but he kept trying, and sometimes he was able to make it to Nantucket, where he sold his goods and returned home with a profit.

In Massachusetts at that time, there were serious problems surrounding the rights of African Americans. One of them was the denial of voting rights. In 1780, a small group of African Americans, including Paul, petitioned the state lawmakers for the right to vote. Since they had to pay taxes, they said, they should have the same rights as other citizens.

The petitioners used the same argument that America was using in its war with England: taxation without representation was unfair. Their petition was denied.

America had declared its independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, but the war was far from over. It did not end until 1783. That year, Paul Cuffe was twenty-four years old. He had grown up having close contact with African Americans and Quakers, and with members of his mother's Native American family and friends, and the year that the American Revolution ended, he married a Wampanoag woman, Alice Pequit.

Paul Cuffe and his wife lived on their own farm, a very large one, in Westport, Massachusetts. In the years that followed, they had seven sons and daughters. For his children and their many cousins, Cuffe founded a school on his land, and invited other children to attend.

Paul Cuffe's shipping business was a great success. He had built several ships, each one larger than the last. He became known as Captain Cuffe. Eventually, he also began to purchase ships. He added his sister's husband as a business partner and employed his sons, nephews and sons-in-law, as well as other African Americans, as crew members on the ships and to help run the business ...

How They Got Over. Copyright © by Eloise Greenfield. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Eloise Greenfield's love of writing shines through brilliantly in each and every one of her books, which include Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems and How They Got Over: African Americans and the Call of the Sea, both illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. She is the recipient of the Coretta Scott King Award, the Foundation for Children's Literature Hope S. Dean Award, and the National Council for the Social Studies Carter G. Woodson Book Award. Ms. Greenfield lives in Washington, DC. You can follow her on Twitter @ELGreenfield.

Jan Spivey Gilchrist is the award-winning illustrator-author of seventy-four children's books. Dr. Gilchrist illustrated the highly acclaimed picture book The Great Migration: Journey to the North, winner of the Coretta Scott King Honor Award, a Junior Library Guild Best Book, an NAACP Image Award nominee, a CCBC Best Book, and a Georgia State Children's Book Award nominee. She won the Coretta Scott King Award for her illustrations in Nathaniel Talking and a Coretta Scott King Honor for her illustrations in Night on Neighborhood Street, all written by Eloise Greenfield. She was inducted into the Society of Illustrators in 2001 and into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 1999. She lives near Chicago, Illinois.

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