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*Hugh Mulzac was born on this date in 1886. He was a Black merchant marine Captain.
From Union Island, St. Vincent Island Group, British West Indies, he was born to Ada Roseline Donowa, an accomplished pianist and an African woman; Hugh's father, Richard Mulzac, was a Mulatto planter and a builder of whaling ships and schooners. His grandfather Charles Malzac, was a white man and a native of St. Kitts W.I. Mulzac/Malzac family was descended from a French Huguenot galley slave who escaped the sinking of the ship, ‘Notre Dame de Bonne Esperance” off the coast of Martinique in 1697. Mulzac attended the Church of England School in Kingstown, SVG, headed by his maternal grandfather, the Rev. James Donowa. Mulzac had two older brothers, Jonathon and Edward, along with younger brothers Irvin, Lambi, and James, along with younger sisters Lavinia and Una.
Mulzac entered the Swansea Nautical College in South Wales to prepare for a seaman’s career in his youth. He became an American citizen in 1918 and continued his instruction at the Shipping Board in New York. He earned his captain’s rating in the merchant marines that same year, but racism denied him the right to command a ship.
Later Mulzac was offered the command of a ship with an all-Black crew. He refused, declaring, "Under no circumstances will I command a Jim Crow vessel." Twenty-two years passed before Mulzac received an offer to command a naval ship again. During World War II, his demand for an integrated crew was finally met, and he was put in command of the SS Booker T. Washington. With its crew of eighteen nationalities, the vessel made twenty-two round-trip voyages in five years and carried over 18,000 troops worldwide.
When Washington was launched, Mulzac said, "Everything I ever was, stood for, fought for, dreamed of, came into focus that day. The concrete evidence of the achievement gives one’s strivings legitimacy, proves that the ambitions were valid, the struggle worthwhile. Being prevented for those twenty-four years from doing the work for which I was trained had robbed life of its most essential meaning. Now at last I could use my training and capabilities fully. It was like being born anew."
Captain Mulzac died in 1971, at age 84, without getting veteran status for service to his country. He received veteran status in 1988, only after a long court battle.
US Merchant Marine Academy
300 Steamboat Road
Kings Point, NY 11024