Radical Black Sailors

Review: Cole on Horne

Gerald Horne. Red Seas: Ferdinand Smith and Radical Black Sailors in the United States and Jamaica. New York: New York University Press, 2005. xv + 359 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8147-3668-5.

Reviewed for H-Caribbean by Peter Cole, Department of History, Western Illinois University
Published by [mailto]H-Caribbean@h-net.msu.edu[/mailto] (June, 2007)

The Most Dangerous Black Man in the Atlantic World?

Gerald Horne has written an important book about the fascinating and oft-forgotten life of Ferdinand Smith. Ferdinand Smith, does that name not ring a bell? As it is a sad reality that many readers have never heard of Smith, or have long forgotten him, we have Horne to thank for rescuing Smith from the proverbial "dustbin." To those interested in the history of the maritime world, Caribbean peoples and their connections to the United States, labor and anti-colonial struggles, the global economy, and the "black Atlantic," this book has something to offer.Smith's life both reflected and shaped important labor, political, racial, and anticolonial struggles in the mid-twentieth century. Most importantly, he helped found and lead one of the strongest unions in the United States, the National Maritime Union (NMU), which had tremendous influence across the world. A longtime resident of Harlem who led a powerful union with a significant, militant black membership, Smith was at the forefront of the push for black equality in American and, later, in Jamaica. Central to his efforts to advance worker and civil rights, Smith was a longtime leader of the Communist Party in the United States and influential in Communist matters worldwide, thanks to his role in the NMU. Perhaps Smith's disappearance from historical memory is a reflection of our post-Cold War world as well as one in which the labor movement seems to be in retreat on an international scale. However, from the 1930s into the early 1960s, Smith was a man both greatly respected and feared. Horne's book is the first in-depth, well-researched look at Ferdinand Smith's remarkable life.