BMRC Processing Project Blog

Captain Harry Dean Papers

By: T.J. Szafranski (BMRC Processing Intern)

The first collection I processed at the DuSable Museum of African American History was the Captain Harry Dean papers. Captain Dean (1865-1934) was an African-American sailor who supported the Pan-Africanism movement. He believed that the mastery of nautical science was essential to the African race returning to glory in their homeland.

Dean was born in Philadelphia, but didn’t stay on land for long. He took his first sailing trip with his uncle when he was 12, and by his count, circumnavigated Africa 18 times during his life. Many of these voyages took place aboard The Pedro Gorino, the ship he purchased in 1900. After his life at sea, Dean returned to America and established an African-American nautical school in San Francisco. His papers include correspondence, a draft of his autobiography governmental reports and documents, and a few photographs. The real treasures, though, are his diaries—over 100 in total—where Dean mused on subjects ranging from sailing, to business, to politics, to racial inequality, to war, to love, to life itself.

While working on the collection, I couldn’t afford much time to reading his writings (more product, less process!), but once our processing was complete, I took an afternoon to peruse the diaries and correspondence. I found Dean to be passionate, articulate, knowledgeable, ambitious, clever, and just plain interesting. His writings share his critiques—most acerbic and biting, some more positive—on the world he lived in. For those interested in political and social issues of the late 19th and early 20th century, the Captain Harry Dean papers provide a unique insight. My favorite part of the diaries and letters were the endless amount of Dean-isms that I discovered. A Dean-ism is a short nugget of knowledge, straight from the tip of Dean’s pen, that’s part life lesson, part proverb, and part fortune cookie. I came across so many that I had to coin a term for them. Here are a few my favorite Dean-isms.

 "Diligence and intelligence is power"

"What we think we know hurts us oftimes more than what we do not know"

"How different a man is from a machine. With a machine the less friction the better it works. With a man the more friction the better he works"

"If one accumulates knowledge and uses those knowledges in a masterful manner they are wise"

"A race without ships is like a blind man without legs"

"I love you as the loved loves the loving of his love"

"Half our wisdom is but weakness, half our folly is but fate"

"If I must sail from San Francisco to Liberia I should leave in March or April"

That last one wasn’t really a Dean-ism, but it’s valuable information, nonetheless.

If you’re interested in reading more from Captain Harry Dean, check out The Pedro Gorino or make a trip to the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago. 



Meet the BMRC Color Curtain Project Staff

1. Name
2. Education
3. Current Processing Location
4. Favorite Historical Period/Time
5. 3 People Living or Dead you'd invite to Dinner?
6. Did You Know

1. Lisa Calahan, (Processing Archivist)
2. MA in Public History from Loyola University, Chicago; MLIS, emphasis in Archival Administration from Dominican University.
3. Despite my title, I have yet to process a collection for the project!
4. Martin Luther King, David Lynch, Stephen Colbert
5. Held the school record (both boys and girls record) and district record in Track and Field for the 400m.

1. Bergis Jules (Project Director)
2. M.L.S./M.A. Indiana University
3. Antebellum Period and the Civil Rights Movement
4. Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, President Obama
5. I was born in Saint Lucia, a small island in the Caribbean.

1. Amber Bailey
2. Undergrad at the University of Chicago, class of 2013
3. The Chicago History Museum's off-site facility in scenic Broadview
4. Post-Reconstruction to WWI, specifically black intellectual and cultural history in this time period
5. Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, and Oprah (to facilitate discussion, as I lack social skills)
6. Did you know.... that I read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica?  Actually, I read a book about a guy reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, but it's basically the same thing.

1. Kristin Moo
2. B.A. in English from Williams College, current student at the Graduate School for Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
3. University of Illinois at Chicago
4. 1890s - 1920s
5. Ralph Ellison, Jane Addams, Jeff Tweedy
6. I am mildly obsessed with animals, especially polar bears and cats. As a volunteer clinic assistant at Tree House Humane Society, my job is to administer morning medications to cats with special needs. I'm pretty much always sporting a scratch or three on my hands; it's probably best that I don't work with polar bears. 

1. Olle Larson
2. Senior, DePaul University, Double Major in History and Psychology
3. UIC Special Collections
4. The 1960's, preferably 1969 to attend Woodstock
5. Jesus Christ, Jimi Hendrix, Teddy Roosevelt
6. I have no sense of smell

1. Katie Obriot
2. BA in English from UIC; Currently in GSLIS at Dominican University
3. Chicago History Museum - working on the Carol Moseley-Braun collection and the J.H. Jackson collection)
4. The Weimar Era (1924-1929) in Germany, and Les Années Folles in France
5. Studs Terkel, Harold Washington, and Bill Murray, OH and Tina Fey
6. I make books (bookbinding) and I'm somewhat of a cat whisperer

1. Elise Zerega
2. DePaul University, studying History and English with a minor in Political Science
3. DuSable Museum of African American History
4. To study: pretty much all American History, but especially the 20th century. To live in, the 1920's, 40's, or 60's
5. George Harrison, Paul Newman, and Robert Kennedy
6. I have toured the Great Pyramids in Egypt on Camel. Also I can wiggle my ears.

1. T.J. Szafranski
2. BA in Creative Writing from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Currently pursuing a Master's in Library and Information Science from Dominican University
3. DuSable Museum of African American History
4. American Revolution
5. Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Vonnegut, Giada DeLaurentiis
6. I once won a poker tournament where the prize was a $10,000 entry fee into the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. But I was only 19 at the time, so I couldn't go.