The term Merchant Marines refers to the commercial ships or fleet of a nation and to the people who operate them. The United States Merchant Marines also serves as an auxiliary of the Navy in time of war or national emergency, transporting goods or materials needed by the Armed Forces. The United States Merchant Marine has played a vital role in every national conflict since 1775, and played a particularly large and vital part in World War II. From: marad.dot.gov
Persons who served in the Merchant Marines are known as mariners, sailors, commercial sailors or seafarers. This organization suffered a high rate of casualties during World War II and were recognized for their impact in 1988 by a federal court. The Merchant Marines had 24,000 African Americans that served in the integrated Merchant Marines during World War II. In a previous post on the Navy's USS Mason, I wrote about the significance of the ship being named after an African American. He was an ensign who was killed in battle.
Famous Opera Singer Marian Anderson
christening the Liberty Ship Booker T. Washington.
Merchant Marines had eighteen ships named after famous Black Americans in World War II. This was significant because... well, you already know why if you are a regular reader of this blog. They even had ships named after Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Liberty Ships were a class of ships quickly constructed during WWII. There were over two thousand constructed and eighteen of the vessels were named after Famous Blacks in Military, Business, and History. Victory Ships were another class of ships. Four of the Victory ships were named after HBCUs.
When I brought up the Merchant Marines to my father, he stated that he had briefly considered joining them in his youth. I am familiar with some of the more famous Black people that the Liberty Ships are named after; several were named after sailors. One ship was named after an entertainer. Singer and actor Bert Williams' tragic story saddened me. He was an intelligent man in real life, but donned black, minstrel show make-up and a completely dumbed down persona. Williams ended up dying from alcoholism in his forties. I viewed his performances on You Tube and developed an understanding of his dichotomy and inner struggle.
The remaining folks on the list represent individuals who left an enduring legacy in other realms of society. In reading the list, you have to agree that this was a strong class of American leaders.
- Booker T. Washington- Leader in Black Community, founder of Tuskegee University.
- George Washington Carver- Botanist, scientist and educator, inventor of peanut butter.
- Frederick Douglass- Escaped slavery and became a noted writer and statesman.
- John Merrick- Successful businessman, founder of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co.
- Robert L. Vann- Editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, a national Black newspaper.
- Paul Laurence Dunbar- Poet, first African American writer to gain wide attention.
- James Weldon Johnson- Writer, lawyer, songwriter, leader of the NAACP.
- John Hope- Educator, religious leader, first Black President of Atlanta University/Morehouse College
- John H. Murphy- Publisher of the Afro American.
- Toussaint L'Ouverture- leader of the Haitian Independence movement, defeated Napoleon.
- Robert S. Abbott- Lawyer, newspaper publisher of the Chicago Defender.
- Harriet Tubman- Abolitionist, Union Spy, led slaves through Underground Railroad.
- Edward A. Savoy- Traveled to Paris as a US Envoy after the Spanish American War.
- Bert Williams- Vaudeville performer, actor, singer, best selling musical artist before 1920.
- James Kyron Walker- Second cook, lost on the Gulfamerica when it was torpedoed.
- Robert J. Banks- Messman on Gulfamerica, also killed after German attack.
- William Cox- Fireman from sinking David Atwater gunned down by Germans.
- George A. Lawson- Messman on the Tug Menominee which was torpedoed and sunk.
- The Fisk University
- The Tuskegee Victory
- The Howard Victory
- The Lane Victory
Lane College is a Coed, liberal arts college located in Jackson, TN. "The college played a significant role in reducing the rate of illiteracy among Blacks in the South in fewer than fifty years." lanecollege.edu
A Montford Point Marine and Tuskegee Airmen In One Family (for info on Historically Black Colleges and Universities)
USS Mason: The World War II Ship With A Mostly Black Crew