Hugh Mulzac

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Hugh Nathaniel Mulzac
Hugh Mulzac.jpg
Captain Mulzac
Born (1886-03-26)March 26, 1886
Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Died January 30, 1971(1971-01-30) (aged 84)
Spouse(s) Marie Avis

Hugh Nathaniel Mulzac (March 26, 1886 – January 30, 1971) was an African-American member of the United States Merchant Marine. He earned a Master rating in 1918 which should have qualified him to command a ship, but this did not happen until September 29, 1942 because of racial discrimination.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Born on March 26, 1886 on Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,[1] his life at sea started right after high school when he served on British schooners.[2]

With a mate's license[3] from Swansea Nautical College[1] he rose to the rank of mate before immigrating to the United States in 1918. Within two years he had earned the first ever master's certificate ever issued to an African American.[4] He served as a mate on the SS Yarmouth of the Black Star Line until that line went out of business in 1922.[2]

For the next two decades the only shipboard work Mulzac could get was in the steward's departments on several shipping lines.[3]

Mulzac was finally promoted to the rank of captain, but he refused the offer because the rank was attached to the condition that he would serve above an all black crew. Mulzac then became a cook for another twenty-two years until he was finally provided the opportunity he sought in World War II.

World War II[edit]

Captain Mulzac and his crew in England after the maiden voyage of the SS Booker T. Washington.

In 1942 he was offered command of the SS Booker T. Washington, the first Liberty ship to be named after an African-American. He refused at first because the crew was to be all black. He insisted on an integrated crew, stating, "Under no circumstances will I command a Jim Crow''

After the war[edit]

After the war, Mulzac again couldn't get command of a ship. In 1948 he unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit against the ship's operators. Then in 1950 he made a bid for Queens Borough President under the American Labor Party ticket. He lost the election, having gotten 15,500 votes.[2]

Due to his strong ties to the labor movement, he found himself blacklisted in the era of McCarthyism.[3] At the New York state election, 1958, he ran on the Independent-Socialist ticket for New York State Comptroller. And in 1948 he became captain of an integrated crew

Mulzac was a self-taught painter, and in 1958, thirty-two of his oil paintings were put on exhibit at one man show in the Countee Cullen Library in Manhattan.[5] In 1960 a Federal Judge restored his seaman's papers and license, and at the age of 74 he was able to find work as a night mate.[2]

On September 29, 1920, Hugh Mulzac married Marie Avis, a native of Jamaica; they would have four children. Their youngest daughter, Una Mulzac, was the founder of a prominent Harlem-based political and Black power-oriented bookstore, Liberation Bookstore.[6]

Captain Mulzac died in East Meadow, New York on January 30, 1971.[7]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "African-Americans in the U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. Maritime Service". U.S. Maritime Service Veterans. 2003-11-17. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  2. ^ a b c d Rydell, Roy (2000-02-16). "Maritime association honors Black seamen". People's Weekly World. Long View Publishing Co. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  3. ^ a b c "WORLD WAR II AND HUGH MULZAC". United States Maritime Administration. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  4. ^ "First Negro Skipper". Time Magazine. 1942-10-05. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  5. ^ "Mulzac Art On Exhibit At Library". New York Amsterdam News. 1958-03-01. p. 11. 
  6. ^ Douglas Martin, "Una Mulzac, Bookseller With Passion for Black Politics, Dies at 88", New York Times, Feb. 5, 2012.
  7. ^ "Census--Capt. Mulzac, 1st Black Merchant [mariner] with Title, Dies" Jet, February 18, 1971, 12

Further reading[edit]

  • Mulzac, Hugh (1965). A Star to Steer By. Seven Seas Publishers. ASIN B0007JUWUM. 

External links[edit]