When Marcus Asante first began sailing, he noticed the lack of African-American sailing clubs along the Chesapeake Bay. Asante—a native of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and current resident of Baltimore, Maryland—decided to take action.
To support and educate other African-American sailors, Asante, a marine technician and sailing instructor, founded the Universal Sailing Club (USC), one of the first African-American sailing clubs established on the Chesapeake Bay. Founded in Baltimore in 2001, the club quickly expanded to incorporate members from throughout the Bay.
“We’re lucky to have excellent members who have joined us to learn to sail and be part of this community,” said Asante. “We look at this as a national and global movement of African and African-descended persons and their connection to their local waterways.”
Some of the biggest names in African-American history, including Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglass, were located right here in the Bay, Asante explains. Sailing and educating others about it is his way of honoring the history unique to this region.
“Some of those people, like Harriet Tubman’s, that were being freed from captivity—they didn’t all walk to freedom,” said Asante. “Some of them were hidden on boats and sailed to freedom.”
In fact, the Bay’s maritime culture and African-American history are deeply intertwined. After the Civil War, the estuary’s booming oyster industry boasted a wealth of jobs requiring relatively low start-up costs, which lured many newly freed blacks to the region. Alongside harvesting oysters, jobs were found building boats and processing the day’s catches. New communities emerged along the Bay’s shores, becoming economic and cultural centers in the region.
In addition to sailing and running USC, Asante hosts camps to educate youth about the Bay’s history, culture and conservation.
“The Chesapeake Bay is one big organism and we all play a part in the health of it,” said Asante. “It’s a team sport, just like on a sailboat.”