For Black History Month, Swansea Museum will be looking back to WW2. A number of Americans were stationed in Swansea and the surrounding area. We will be considering three Black Americans who were in Swansea for just a short period but who would become historically significant.
Hugh Nathaniel Mulzac (1886 – 1971)
Hugh Mulzac was the first African American to be awarded a US Master Mariner Certificate. This is the qualification required to be a ship captain.
Hugh Mulzac was born on the Island of St Vincent and the Grenadines, West Indies in 1886.
Following High School he began working on British merchant ships and was subsequently sent to the Nautical Training College here in Swansea where he gained his Mates certificate. In 1918 he emigrated to the United States where he completed his qualification as a Master Mariner. He initially served as an officer on the SS Yarmouth, a Black Star Line ship.
The Black Star Line was set up by Marcus Carvey in 1919. Marcus Carvey was also the leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The aim was to provide non exploitative jobs.
Mulzac for some reason fell out with Marcus Carvey and left in 1922. Due to racial discrimination, he could only find work as a Steward despite his skills qualifications and experience. This situation continued for the next twenty years.
In 1942 however he was offered command of the Liberty Ship SS booker T. Washington, the first Liberty Ship to be named after an African American. Booker T. Washington was a notable educator, orator and advisor to several US Presidents.
Mulzac was very much a man of principle. When the US Maritime Commission offered him the Captaincy, he initially refused, as it was a Black segregated crew. He stated at the time, that under no circumstances would he command a “Jim Crow”. (Jim Crow, being a slang term for segregation laws in the United States). The US Maritime Commission relented and Mulzac became the first Black captain of an integrated crew.
During WW2 the SS Booker T. Washington transported 18,000 troops and supplies to Europe. It is likely that at some point, Mulzac would have again visited Swansea as one of the key ports for importing US supplies and supplying the Normandy beach head. Following WW2 Mulzac again found he could not secure a command of a private commercial ship. Not only due to discrimination but also partly due to his politics.
Mulzac joined and stood for the American Labour Party which many Americans considered to be a communist organisation. At the height of the Cold War and the McCarthy era, he found himself blacklisted. The US government also revoked his seaman’s papers and licences. Mulzac took the Government to court and finally secured his licenses back in 1960.
One of his daughters would also take up politics. Una Mulzac was the founder of a prominent political and Black power orientated bookshop in Harlem.
Hugh Mulzac died in New York in 1971, aged 84