Pioneer black ship captain honored alongside WWII Merchant Navy veterans

Hundreds of people gathered on Thursday at the fastest growing maritime industry’s annual event to celebrate Merchant Navy veterans of all wars and honor WWII’s decorated hero, the Pioneer civil rights and the captain of the liberty ship SS Booker T. Washington, the late Captain Hugh Mulzac, of the United States Merchant Navy … and the twenty-two World War II merchant seamen in attendance who have just won a 75-year battle for full recognition of Congress as alumni fighters.

Hundreds of guests showed up at the American Merchant Marine Veterans Association (AMMV) event held in Mitags near Baltimore, Maryland. Also present at the event were television cameras, national radio microphones, prominent union leaders, numerous admirals, diplomats, industry leaders and five bestselling authors: Rita Cosby, David Yoho, Captain Phillips, William Geroux and Captain John Konrad.

Award-winning singer Tomaczek Bednarek pays tribute to Merchant Navy Veterans at the AMMV Gala Dinner.

The winner of this year’s AMMV event was the Civil Rights Leader and U.S. Merchant Navy Hero of World War II, Captain Hugh Mulzac, Captain of the SS Booker T Washington.

Born in the British West Indies in 1886, Mulzac went to sea after high school, sailing on British ships. He then attended the Nautical School in Swansea, UK, where he obtained a journeyman’s license. He sailed as a ship’s officer during World War I and came to the United States, becoming a citizen in 1918.

In 1920 Mulzac passed the American ship captain’s examination, but there was no berth on board available for a black captain. Although he held a captain’s license, which qualified him to be a ship’s captain, he worked for the next 20 years mainly in the service of the stewards of various shipping companies. It was the only on-board job he could find and he became an expert in food service management.

With the outbreak of World War II, Mulzac seized the opportunity to use his license and order a ship. At 56, he was named captain of the new Liberty Ship Booker T. Washington, christened by legendary opera singer Marian Anderson. Mulzac insisted on having an on-board crew, not the all-black crew that had been planned. The US Maritime Commission gave in and the Booker T. Washington made 22 round trips with Mulzac at the helm.

Also Read: Captain Mulzac WW2 Hero and America’s First Black Master Mariner

“There were many other captains of black ships throughout history before him. Many of this country’s great abolitionists were sailors, but they were deprived of their human rights by the Negro Seaman’s Act of 1822. During World War II much of the history of proud black sailors had since been forgotten. long time. said Captain Robert Cook, president of the Black Navy Graduates Organization. “Honoring Captain Mulzac is important so that every American understands how far they have come. “

Union apologies

Captain Hugh Mulzac’s family accepts oil painting of MM&P Union’s SS Booker T Washington

After the end of World War II, Captain Mulzac never sailed as a captain again due to the prejudices imposed by the Master, Mates and Pilots Union (MM&P).

“Looking back, I discovered that our story was one of discrimination based on race, gender and religion from the founding of MM&P until we were forced to fit in, to open our ranks. to all qualified people in the 1960s. ” MM&P representative Jeremy Hope said at the event. “For that, we apologize to the family of Captain Mulzacs and all the sailors our policies hurt.”

Congress Gold Medal

In addition to honoring Captain Mulzac and all the merchant navy veterans who have served their country in conflicts as recently as the withdrawal from Afghanistan … the event also marked the end of the three-quarter-century battle. WWII merchant seamen for full recognition as veterans.

On March 3, Congress passed the “World War II Merchant Seamen Congress Gold Medal Act, 2020”. Sponsored by Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the bipartisan legislation will award a Congressional Gold Medal to surviving members of the United States Merchant Navy who served in WWII global. This civil organization was the vital link between the industrial capacity of the United States – known as the Arsenal of Democracy – and the war fronts in Africa, Asia and Europe, separated by contested seas.

“I am not cynical, but I will not celebrate this long awaited accomplishment yet.” Keynote speaker, best-selling author and WWII merchant sailor David Yoho told millions of listeners on Rita Cosby’s radio show. “I can’t until the prize hangs around my neck. I can’t because I don’t speak for myself, I speak for the nearly a quarter of a million Americans who served in the US Merchant Service during World War II and who are no longer with us.

Former U.S. Maritime Administrator Rear Admiral Mark Buzby and Acting Administrator Lucinda Lessley were on hand to unveil the design and vowed to expedite the physical issuance of the award which has been delayed due to COVID. No mention, however, was made by Lucinda as to when Merchant Navy veterans from Korea, Vietnam and the Two Gulf Wars will receive veteran status.

Are merchant seamen veterans? by Captain John Konrad:

Those interested in supporting the efforts of the American Merchant Marine Association can register on their website.

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