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Vincentians remember Hugh Mulzac after forty-five years

Vincentians remember Hugh Mulzac after forty-five years


On the forty-first anniversary of his passing, the legacy of Vincentian native Captain Hugh N. Mulzac still lingers in the minds of Vincentians and others who are familiar with his legacy.{{more}}

Mulzac, the first black person to command a ship in the American merchant marine, was born on the Grenadine Island of Union Island on March 26, 1886, and died on January 31, 1971.

As a child Captain Mulzac attended the St. Vincent Grammar School because his father wanted him to be an engineer.

However, Mulzac wanted to be a sailor, a desire that became a passion when his father took him to visit HMS Good Hope in Kingston, Jamaica.

On completing Grammar School, Mulzac sailed as a seaman on the schooner Sunbeam, captained by his brother John. He subsequently sailed on a Norwegian ship from Barbados through the Caribbean and the Atlantic, again as a seaman.

Mulzac received his training at Swansea Nautical College in South Wales and in New York City and became an American citizen in 1918. He earned his rating as captain in 1920, but found no command because of the racism of his times. When offered command of an all-black crew, he refused, sailing instead as a mate. Later he served as chief cook on various commercial vessels throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Although he had his master’s papers for more than 20 years, Captain Mulzac did not become a working skipper until 1942 when he was given the Liberty ship Booker T Washington. With an integrated crew he sailed the ship in Word War 11 on 22 round-trips out of American ports over five years.

His crew represented 17 nationalities, with about 25 per cent of them being black, including the chief engineer, four deck officers and a wireless operator. He selected his own men after an argument with the War Shipping Administration and the Maritime Commission.

The vessel transported 18,000 troops in the Mediterranean, France, England and the Pacific. She saw antiaircraft action on several occasions and was credited with shooting down two enemy planes. There was never a cargo loss, an accident or loss of personnel in many years on the high seas under Captain Mulzac.

Despite Captain Mulzac’s historic breaching of his racial barrier, few blacks have since served as masters of American merchantmen.