Skip to main content

The Scholar & The Sailor

Washington, DC, native Greg White had always wanted to become a sailor, but after being arrested and sent to a maximum security prison for armed robbery his dream never felt so far away. While serving his 22-year prison sentence, Greg frequently turned to literature as a source of strength and inspiration. During one 18-month stint in solitary confinement, Greg read a book that resonated deeply with his long-held childhood dream to become a sailor. The book, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, told a historical narrative of African Americans reclaiming their sense of freedom as merchant mariners on the high seas at the turn of the 19th century. White's ensuing correspondence with the book's author — Dr. Jeff Bolster, a maritime historian and professor at the University of New Hampshire — would prove to be a transformative experience for both men.

Since 1965, the National Endowment for the Humanities has supported thousands of scholarly projects like Dr. Bolster's book. The Scholar & The Sailor explores the difficult-to-quantify human impact of humanities scholarship, reminding us that humanities scholarship has the power to connect and inspire people of diverse backgrounds at the same time as it advances academic disciplines. The inspiring link between Greg White and Jeff Bolster, from their shared childhood sailing aspirations to the relationship that formed over their letter exchange, is both unique and universal. Through Greg and Jeff's story, The Scholar & The Sailor reminds us of the power of scholarship, history, and the written word to leave a meaningful and lasting impact on individual lives.

Produced by Meridian Hill Pictures
Directors: Lance Kramer and Ellie Walton
Producer: Lance Kramer
Editor: Sara Fusco
Sound: Jen Quintana
Production Assistant: Ja'anai Delaney
Music: Sam McCormally
Executive Producer for NEH: Mark Katkov