BlackFacts Details

Mulzac, Hugh (1886-1971)

Hugh Mulzac, the first African American shipcommander, was born on March 26, 1886 in the British West Indies"s Union Islandin Saint Vincent Grenadines. 

After graduating from high school, Mulzac servedon British merchant vessels.  He earned amate"s license from Swansea Nautical Collegein Great Britainand reached the rank of mate.  DuringWorld War I Mulzac served as a ship"s officer on British and American ships.   In 1918 Mulzac immigrated to the United States,becoming a citizen that same year and two years later he became the firstAfrican American to pass the shipping master"s examination.    

In 1920 Mulzac joined Marcus Garvey"s UniversalNegro Improvement Association (UNIA).  Becauseof his history with seafaring vessels he was named a chief officer on the SS Yarmouth, one of the UNIA"s Black StarLine vessels.  Mulzac resigned from hisposition in 1921 because of disagreements with the Garvey organization.  For the next twenty years, racialdiscrimination in the shipping industry forced Mulzac to work as a stewarddespite his previous experience.        

In 1942 his career was briefly rescued when theUnited States Maritime Commission offered Mulzac, at the age of 56, theopportunity to command the first Libertyship named after an African American, the SS Booker T. Washington.  He initiallydeclined the offer because Commission policies required him to command an allblack crew.  When the NationalAssociation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other black organizationsprotested, Commission officials then changed the racial policy and from 1942 to1947 he commanded an integrated crew.  VariousLiberty ships under his command made 22 roundtrips, transporting 18,000 soldiers to the war theater in Europeand the Pacific.

Whenhis last assignment on a Libertyship ended in 1947, now 61-year-old Mulzac was still denied the opportunity tocommand privately owned commercial vessels. He retired from seafaring andturned to radical politics.  In 1950, Mulzacran on the American Labor Party (ALP) ticket for Queens