Captain Kermit Travers honored with ALTA Award

MD-Kermit Travers honored with Alta award_2x

Dorchester Banner/ Edwin Remsberg
Captain Kermit Travers of Dorchester County was honored at the 5th annual Maryland Traditions Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts (ALTA) awards ceremony and concert took place on Dec. 5 at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center, Silver Spring.

SILVER SPRING — The 5th annual Maryland Traditions Achievement in Living Traditions and Arts (ALTA) awards ceremony and concert took place on Dec. 5 at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center, Silver Spring. Maryland Traditions is the folklife program of the Maryland State Arts Council. The ALTA Awards, established in 2007, are the state’s highest award for recognizing traditions, people, and places that are emblematic of Maryland’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.

This year, in the “People” category, the Maryland State Arts Council honored Dorchester County’s Captain Kermit “Robert Lee” Travers, who served his tenure as a captain aboard the skipjack Ida May.

Captain Travers, now 78, is reputedly the only surviving African-American skipjack captain active within the Chesapeake Bay region. Historically, only a handful of African-American men ever achieved that status, and even less owned an iconic flagship of Maryland’s oyster harvesting skipjack fleet.

In 1952, he first learned the complex skills needed on his uncle’s tonging boat the Leona Marie. Later, on The Lady Katie, Captain Travers apprenticed as a “captain in training” with Captains Eugene Wheatley and George Powley. In the winter of 1969, it was on the H. M. Krentz where he piloted as a fully-qualified skipjack Captain and became responsible for his crew, and the oyster catch that paid the crew, and maintained the upkeep of the ship.

“Working on the water is a real experience,” says Captain Travers. “You just don’t take the water for granted. You have to know what you’re doing at all times. You better not be careless, because if you are, in a split second you’re gone. Being a captain, you’ve got to watch everything — everything!”

Among his contemporaries, the respected Captain Kermit holds a seat of honor among every skipjack captain. For this reason, he is sought after for his wisdom and knowledge gained from decades as a mariner and cultural practitioner of African-American folkways.

Captain Travers was nominated for the 2015 ALTA Award by cultural researcher James Lane.

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