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A Landmark Liberty Ship

Photograph: Captain and crew of the Liberty Ship SS Booker T. Washington

The SS Booker T. Washington

The Liberty ship Booker T. Washington was the first major U.S. oceangoing vessel to be named after an African-American.

The Booker T. Washington was built by the California Shipbuilding Corp. at Terminal Island, Los Angeles. Launched in 1942, the Liberty ship was christened by African-American opera star Marian Anderson.

The 10,500-ton vessel made its first trans-Atlantic crossing in early 1943 from New York City to Great Britain, under the command of Captain Hugh Mulzac. He remained at the ship’s helm for the next four years and 22 successful voyages. During this time, he expressed pride for his integrated crew, which represented 17 nationalities.

After World War II, the Booker T. Washington hauled coal for the Luckenbach Steamship Company, under the command of another Black shipmaster, Captain James H. Brown, Jr. In 1947, the vessel was laid-up in the defense reserve fleet, where it remained for the next 22 years.

The Booker T. Washington was recycled in July 1969 in Portland, OR, but remains an interesting and significant footnote in the chronicle of African-American seafaring.


Ships Named in Honor of African-Americans

  • Robert J. Banks
  • George Washington Carver
  • William Cox
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Paul Laurence Dunbar
  • John Hope
  • Robert S. Abbott
  • Ames Weldon Johnson
  • George A. Lawson
  • John Merrick
  • John H. Murphy
  • Edward A. Savoy
  • Harriett Tubman
  • Robert L.Vann
  • James K. Walker
  • Bert Williams

-All photos are used courtesy of the U.S. War Shipping Commission, the Maritime Administration,  the National Archives and the U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command-