Capt. Hugh N. Mulzac, who fought years of racial discrimination, made history in 1942 when he became the first black man to command a U.S. merchant vessel when given command of the new Liberty ship Booker T. Washington.
A native of Union Island in the Caribbean, and after earning his second mate’s certificate at Swansea Nautical College in England, Mulzac worked aboard a banana boat sailing between Jamaica and Baltimore.
In 1910, he arrived in Baltimore and applied for a mate’s position at the Merchants & Miners Transportation Co., and was politely told that blacks were hired only to work in the steward’s department.
Grudgingly, he sailed on M & M line vessels as a cook, and with the outbreak of World War I, served as a deck officer on British and American ships.
Mulzac became a U.S. citizen and returned to Baltimore in 1918 where he was the first black in the city to sit for his master’s ticket, and despite a perfect score, was denied a command.