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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

The Story of a Wartime African-American Mariner

James R. Europe

Photograph: James R. Europe
James R. Europe

James R. Europe was another African-American given the opportunity to pursue seagoing employment while serving his country during the national emergency of World War II.

The son of a well-known musician, band leader and composer of the early 20th century, James Reese Europe, Jim Europe, Jr. signed on as a seaman apprentice in the merchant marine in 1942. He sailed aboard Liberty ships in the war’s early years, and then was selected for officer training school.

At the U.S. Maritime Service Training School at Fort Trumbull in New London, Connecticut, Europe was the only African-American in his section of 30 students, and one of just a handful of black mariners afforded such officer training.

Europe graduated from Fort Trumbull in March 1945 with the rank of ensign, U.S. Maritime Service. He later earned his license as a third assistant engineer and a promotion to lieutenant (jg), USMS, in December 1946.

As the post-war merchant fleet diminished in size, Europe decided to leave the sea. He joined the New York City Police Department, and later the Fire Department, from which he retired as a decorated lieutenant. He earned a graduate degree in 1975 and worked as an alcohol/drug counselor. In 1988, Europe received the Leadership Award of the Nassau County Commission on Human Relations.

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

Last updated: Thursday, October 25, 2018