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]

Hugh Mulzac was born March 26, 1886, on Union Island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines[1] to Cece and Charles Mulzac. His parents were known for their seafaring background.[citation needed] Captain Hugh had a younger brother, Richard Rupert Mulzac who also served with the Navy. The Mulzacs were born into wealth as they were an island power until 1952 when they lost the Island due to British colonialism in the Caribbean. His mother, Cece was known to the Islanders as "Sea Mrs", because of the families history of trade and seafaring. She was the last Caribbean Queen of the Union Islands until the royal ascension in 1952 that caused the Island to be ceded to Britain at this time. Subsequently, people with dark complexion were exiled to the Island of Honduras.[citation needed]

Early career[edit]

Mulzac's life at sea started immediately after high school when he served on British schooners. He was sent to Swansea Nautical College in Wales to train for his ship masters license.[2] In 1918, Hugh Mulzac emigrated to the United States. Within two years he had earned his shipping master's certificate, the first ever issued to an African American.[3] He joined with Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and served as a Captain on the SS Yarmouth of the Black Star Line. However, disagreements with the UNIA lead to his resignation in 1921.[2]

For the next two decades, the only shipboard work Mulzac could get was in the steward's departments on several shipping lines.[4] He was continuously harassed by the American CIA and FBI.{{Citation needed|date=January 2017}

World War II[edit]

In 1942, Mulzac 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", and the authorities relented. With this, he became famous for being the first ever black captain, the first black man to obtains a ships masters license and the first black man ever to command a fully integrated vessel. Under his command, over 18,000 troops were transported around the world, and additionally "carrying vital war supplies such as tanks, aircraft and ammunition to the European front."[5][6]

Captain Hugh Mulzac also played a role in the National Maritime Union. The Union included a clause that stipulated that there should be no discrimination based on color, race, political creed, religion or national origin.

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

After the war[edit]

After the war, Mulzac could not regain a position as captain. In 1948 he unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit against the ship's operators. 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.[4] At the New York state election, 1958, he ran on the Independent-Socialist ticket for New York State Comptroller.

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.[7] 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]

Captain Mulzac died in East Meadow, New York on January 30, 1971 at the age of 84.[8]

Personal life[edit]

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.[9]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b "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. ^ this could not be refused with a perfect score of 100 "First Negro Skipper" Check |url= value (help). Time Magazine. 1942-10-05. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  4. ^ a b "WORLD WAR II AND HUGH MULZAC". United States Maritime Administration. Retrieved 2007-02-24. 
  5. ^ "Seafaring Pioneer Hugh Mulzac Born". Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  6. ^ Faria, Norman (1 February 2010). "A tribute to Capt. Hugh Mulzac". People's World. Retrieved 28 January 2017. 
  7. ^ "Mulzac Art On Exhibit At Library". New York Amsterdam News. 1958-03-01. p. 11. 
  8. ^ "Census--Capt. Mulzac, 1st Black Merchant [mariner] with Title, Dies" Jet, February 18, 1971, 12
  9. ^ Douglas Martin, "Una Mulzac, Bookseller With Passion for Black Politics, Dies at 88", New York Times, Feb. 5, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]