Past Award Honorees

In 2016 we honored Capt. Robert Smalls.

Robert Smalls (1839-1916) was a black American statesman who was born a slave and made a daring escape at the beginning of the Civil War. After the war he served five terms in Congress as the representative from South Carolina. Robert Smalls was born a slave, to Robert and Lydia Smalls at Beaufort, S.C., on April 5, 1839. He was taken to Charleston as a youth and worked there at a variety of jobs. He soon mastered the seafaring art and became the de facto pilot of a Confederate transport steamer, the Planter. Smalls never accepted his enslaved condition and was determined to free himself. He taught himself to read and write, mastered the tricky currents and channels of Charleston Harbor, and bided his time. Sooner or later his chance would come: he would be free. He had to be free. The Civil War brought his chance. On the morning of May 13, 1862, long before the sun was up and while the ship’s white officers still slept in Charleston, Smalls smuggled his wife and three children aboard the Planter and took command. With his crew of 12 slaves, Smalls hoisted the Confederate flag and with great daring sailed the Planter past the other Confederate ships and out to sea. Once beyond the range of the Confederate guns, he hoisted a flag of truce and delivered the Planter to the commanding officer of the Union fleet. Smalls explained that he intended the Planter as a contribution by black Americans to the cause of freedom. The ship was received as contraband, and Smalls and his black crew were welcomed as heroes. Later, President Lincoln received Smalls in Washington and rewarded him and his crew for their valor. He was given official command of the Planter and made a captain in the U.S. Navy; in this position he served throughout the war. After the war Smalls returned to South Carolina to enter politics. He served in the Carolina Senate from 1868 to 1870. In 1875 he was elected to the U.S. Congress for the first of five terms. His record as a congressman was progressive. He fought for equal travel accommodations for black Americans and for the civil and legal protection of children of mixed parentage. He was one of the six black members of the South Carolina constitutional convention of 1895.After leaving Congress; Smalls was duty collector for the port of Beaufort. He retained his interest in the military and was a major general in the South Carolina militia. He died on Feb. 22, 1916.

 

In 2015 we honored Isaac Myers and Matthew Henson.
Isaac Myers
Isaac Myers was born in 1835 to free black parents in Maryland, which was still a slave state at the time. He received his early education from a local clergyman since the state of Maryland did not provide public education for black children at that time. At 16, he was sent to be an apprentice to James Jackson, a prominent black ship caulker in Baltimore. Within 4 years, Mr. Myers was supervising the caulking of all the clipper ships in Baltimore harbor.

During the Civil War, Isaac worked as a porter and shipping clerk. When the war ended, Myers attempted to return to ship caulking in Baltimore harbor, but was blocked from doing so by white ship caulkers working in the area. To overcome this obstacle, Isaac created a union that would allow for the employment of black ship caulkers. The Colored Caulkers Trade Union Society was formed. In addition to the formation of the union, they would also create their own shipyard and railroad company with the help of funds from local black residents in the Baltimore area. They named this new cooperative company the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company. Within a few months, this cooperative employed 300 black and white shipyard workers and held several government contracts. The success also sparked other black shipyard laborers to unionize in other seaports. This also caught the attention of the National Labor Union, the largest organization of its kind at the time. In 1869 the NLU invited the Colored Caulkers Trade Union Society to its Philadelphia convention where they stated they would welcome Black unions into its group.

At this time, Myers was elected as the President of the Colored National Labor Union, again, the first of its kind in US history. Myers encourages black workers to join union and fully expected the white unions to accept them, but learned they wouldn’t do so until the black union members stopped supporting the Republican Party and join the Labor Reform Party. The Black union members, including Myers, refused to drop the Republican Party. This resulted in the NLU not inviting the Colored National Labor Union to join the National Labor Union. With no large supporters of the Colored National Labor Union, it dissolved in 1871. Although Black American workers proved vital to the United States, it was not until the 1940s with the start of World War II that the federal government supported black laborers with the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission.

Myers work didn’t end with the dissolving of the CLNU. He was still organizing groups as well including the Maryland Colored State Industrial Fair Association where he was the President, the Colored Business Men’s Association of Baltimore, the Colored Building and Loan Association and the Aged Ministers Home of the AME Church. He also wrote Mason’s Digest. All of you are also supporting his legacy whether it’s with the donations given to support scholarships or the hard work cadets and student put in to their education. With that we know his efforts were not in vain but are still very necessary.

Matthew Henson
Matthew A. Henson, the first African American Artic explorer, was born in Maryland in 1866. Henson’s parents were free people before the American Civil War. After the death of his parents, Henson moved to Baltimore, MD with his Uncle. Soon after he went to sea as a cabin boy on a merchant vessel named the Katie Hines. The Master of the vessel, Captain Childs, took a liking to Henson and taught him how to read and write. For the next several years, Henson sailed all over the world with Childs. He visited such ports as China, Japan, the Philippines, France, Africa as well as southern Russia. Under Childs Henson learned geography, math, and history. Henson also learned general seamanship and became a skilled navigator.
After a number of years at sea Henson came ashore and while working in a clothing store he met the explorer Robert Peary. After learning of Henson’s sea experience, Peary recruited him to go to sea. After their first voyage, Peary was so impressed with Henson’s seamanship and navigational skills, that he made Henson his first man. Henson partnered with Peary on seven voyages over a period of nearly 23 years. Six of those voyages, over 18 years, were in expeditions to the Artic. Over those years Henson served as a navigator and craftsman, trader as well as interpreter, learning the Inuit language. During their 1909 expedition to Greenland, Henson, Peary and four Inuit men have been credited with being the first to reach the geographic North Pole.
Now, while Admiral Peary received recognition throughout his life, Henson suffered the disgrace of a black hero in the early 20th century. He was refused a pension by Congress and was denied membership in the New York Explorer’s Club of which Peary was a member. In later years, Henson was finally admitted as a member to the New York Explorer’s Club (at age 70), received a Medal by the U.S. Navy and one by the Chicago Geographic Society. In 1947, Henson published his autobiography, Dark Companion.
Mr. Henson passed away March 9, 1955, right here in the Bronx, NY. He was refused burial in Arlington National Cemetery where his partner, Admiral Peary lay. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan granted permission for the remains of Henson as well as his wife to be moved near those of Admiral Peary, a fitting resting place for this true hero!

 

In 2014 we honored Lanier Phillips, (1923-2012) who was the first African-American to become a U.S. Navy sonar technician in 1957. But that is just one of his accomplishments. Lanier was born in 1925 in Lithonia, GA. His mother and father were sharecroppers. His great-grandparents were slaves. He grew up in a racist south where he witnessed the horrors of the Klu-Klux-Clan firsthand. At 18, seeing no future in Georgia, he decided to enlist in the Navy. Once in the Navy, he was destined to be nothing but a steward or a mess attendant. It was February 1942 when the U.S. warships Pollux and Truxtun went aground at a cove on Newfoundland’s Burin Peninsula, near the towns of St. Lawrence and Lawn. Lanier Phillips was one of the survivors of the Truxtun. 203 sailors lost their life that night and Phillips was on of 186 survivors. He almost didn’t survive and he tells the story of himself along with a couple of other black mess attendants and one Pilipino mess-man standing on the sinking ship and deciding whether to try and make it ashore. The men thought they were off the coast of Iceland and figured if they did make it to shore, they might be lynched when they arrived. At the time Iceland did not allow Blacks to enter its shores. Taking his chances, Lanier jumped on the last raft leaving the ship. He was the only African American to survive the ship wreck. Once ashore, the townspeople cared for all the sailors that made it ashore and brought them back to good health. All the sailors were covered in oil from the shipwreck. When they realized the oil was not coming off of Lanier, he got worried but so did his caretakers. They thought the oil had soaked into his pores because no amount of washing and rubbing was getting the oil off. Lanier worried that if he told them it was not oil on his skin, they would let him die. None of that happened when he told his caretakers he was a Negro, they simply said “we never saw one before”. The humanity shown to him in St. Lawrence changed his entire philosophy of life – it gave him dreams and ambitions; it gave him a newfound sense of self-worth; and it made him realize that he could shape his own future. Lanier went on to serve as mess-man on several different ships during and after World War II, but he never forgot the kindness the people of Newfoundland showed him. For the rest of his life, he told the story of his treatment from those good people that forever changed his life. After giving 20 years of service, Mr. Phillips retired from the Navy in 1961. He became very active in the Civil Rights Movement, from marching with Dr. Martin Luther King to traveling around the country on speaking engagements telling his story. In a 2006 interview, Phillips said, “I’ll tell it again and again,” I’ll tell it until the day I die, because I think it should be told. To me, it’s a lesson in humanity and love for mankind, and I hope the whole world hears about it. I just wish other people would experience the same love.” In his retirement, Mr. Phillips worked for NASA as a technician in our space program, and he worked with the ALVIN deep water submersible team. He also worked with the famous underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau and assisted in the development of the deep sea lamp technology.

Please visit the links section of our website and view the three part YouTube video of Lanier Phillip’s life titled “A World without Racism The story of Lanier Phillips”

In 2013 we honored Captain William T. Shorey, who was born in Barbados in 1859, went to sea as a teenager, and made his first whaling voyage in 1876. Whaling brought him to California, and he married Julia Ann Shelton, the daughter of a leading African American family in San Francisco. He was a skilled captain and navigator, earning his masters license which allowed him to command any size vessel anywhere in the world. He and Julia Ann had 5 children, living in West Oakland at 1782 8th Street. At that time the whaling industry was in decline, but Shorey, educated, intelligent, energetic, and dedicated, not only survived but thrived. By 1880, Shorey was a whaling officer, serving as Third Mate on the three-year cruise of the whaler Emma F. Herriman. At the end of the voyage, both Shorey and Herriman were in San Francisco. Sailing again on two shorter voyages of less than a year each, in 1886 Shorey gained his first command. Hailed as the “only colored captain on the Pacific Coast. Shorey, was the only black captain operating on the west coast at that time. He was known to his whaling crews as the ‘Black Ahab’.  Captain William T. Shorey stood out as an exemplary man. Captain William T. Shorey retired from the sea in 1908, as the whaling industry was winding down as petroleum was discovered. Following his death, Shorey Street in West Oakland was named after him.  He was the first black resident in Oakland to be honored by the city fathers.

We also honored Dr. Joseph C. Hoffman, by naming a special award in his name. We named it the Outstanding Leadership and Excellence in Education Award. Dr. Joseph C. Hoffman is a State University Distinguished Teaching Professor and served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at SUNY Maritime College. Dr. Hoffman has also served as the Associate Provost, Science Department Chair, Dean of Freshmen Programs and Presiding Officer of the Faculty. Dr. Hoffman graduated from SUNY Maritime with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from SUNY Maritime College in 1975. He went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from Adelphi University in 1977, and he received his doctorate in education from LaSalle University in 1998. In the 36 or so years Dr. Hoffman has been associated with the school he has touched many cadets with his leadership and teaching. We honored him for all his years of service to the school and the Cultural Club members.

In 2012 we honored BMCM Sherman Byrd (1930-1971), who was the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal School.  Master Chief Sherman Byrd graduated from NAVSCOLEOD in Indian Head, MD with class 04B-58.  With only an eighth grade education, (the highest level of education available to African Americans at that time), Master Chief Byrd joined the Navy at the age of 17 on Dec. 26, 1947 and completed Boot Camp  in San Diego, California. After serving on four ships and advancing from Seaman Recruit to BM2 Byrd volunteered to attend Deep Sea Dive School at the Washington Navy Yard where he graduated in 1955. He then went on to graduate from the Naval School of Underwater Swimmers, Key West, Florida in July 1957. In 1958 he graduated from NAVSCOLEOD in Indian Head, MD becoming the first African American to graduate from the Explosive Ordinance School. In 1959 he was promoted to BM1 and in 1963 he was promoted to Chief Boatswains Mate. Byrd became an instructor at NAVSCOLEOD in 1964 and in 1967 he advanced to Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate. He was promoted to Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate 1969. Serving on 10 ships in his career and supporting the Secret service in protecting four Presidents of the United States Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Sherman Byrd was the recipient of six Good Conduct Medals, China Service Medal, Korean Service Medal w/K-10 Engagement Star, National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service, Medal, Navy Occupation Service Medal, Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Engagement-Cuba).  Unfortunately, at the age of forty in 1971 BMCM died from a heart attack following a physical training exercise. In 2009 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Training and Evaluation Unit 2 dedicated a plaque in honor of Master Chief Petty Officer Sherman Byrd, boatswain’s mate, the first African American to complete Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal School.
His two daughters Cynthia Byrd Conner and Yulanda Blount who were born in Key West while he was stationed there along with other members of Master Chief Byrd’s family came to Maritime College to help us honor him too. The O.B.M.G. would like to that thank all of Master Chief Byrd’s family that came to help us honor BMCM Byrd on that night.  Please go to: http://masterchiefshermanbyrd.com/index.html to learn more about Master Chief Sherman Byrd.

In 2011 we honored William Alexander Leidesdorff Jr., (1810 –1848), he was one of the earliest Black U.S. citizens of California and a highly successful, enterprising businessman and millionaire. Born in the Virgin Islands and journeying to New Orleans at a young age he engaged in the maritime field. As Master of the 106-ton schooner named Julia Ann he would make the famous trading voyage to the Pacific. His route would include destinations to ports in Panama, St. Croix, Brazil, Chile the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Alaska.  After several years, his route brought him and his vessel into San Francisco Bay, landing at the point known as Yerba Buena Cove. On arriving at Yerba Buena, Leidesdorff Jr. began to build his businesses.  He launched the first steamboat to operate on San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River.  He built the City Hotel, the first hotel in San Francisco, and the first commercial shipping warehouse. William A. Leidesdorff, has also been officially recognized as the, African Founding Father of California, as founder of Public Education in California; he organized construction, built and opened the first public school in California, at Portsmouth Square, San Francisco.
Becoming a Mexican citizen in 1844 he received a land grant of 35,000 acres on the American River that encompassed what is today Folsom, California located outside of Sacramento. After his untimely death in 1848William’s trading partner, John Sutter, announced the discovery of gold on the land owned by Leidesdorff.  Values of Leidesdorff’s holdings increased to more than $1.5 million in 1856, which would equate to somewhere in the billion dollar range in today’s dollars.

In 2010 we honored sailor-author-adventurer Captain William Pinkney, the first African-American to sail solo around the world in his 47 foot sailboat, Commitment. He made this two year 27,000 mile solo voyage not only to set a world record, but to prove to his grandchildren it could be done. By doing so he not only inspired his grandchildren and their friends, about the importance of having dreams along with a good education, he inspired us in the maritime community by his commitment to the sea and his never give up attitude. As Master of the Freedom Schooner, Amistad Captain Pinkney has help to educate thousands of people around the world about our rich African-American history in the maritime field. Author of “As Long as Takes” Captain Bill Pinkney was also the keynote speaker at the 2010 Black History Month Dinner.

In 2009 the awards were given in honor of William Tillman, the Negro who recaptured his vessel from Confederate pirates, safely sailed it back to New York, fought the court system of the times and emerged as one of the first African American maritime heroes of the Civil War.

In 2008 the awards were given in honor of John Jea, known by some as the preaching sailor. John Jea’s book The Life, History, and Unparalleled Sufferings of John Jea, the African Preacher. Compiled and written by Himself, which was published in 1811.

In 2007 the awards were given in honor of Capt. Moses Dallas, Pilot for the Savannah Squadron of the Confederate States Navy 1861-1864. Known as the “best inland pilot on the coast”

In 2006 the awards were given in honor of Heroes in the Ships, African Americans in the Whaling Industry from the New Bedford Whaling Museum web site.

In 2005 the awards were given in honor of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Maxie Brashear, USN (Ret.) The first Black Master Diver in the history of the U.S. Navy Also we honored the all black Pea Island Coast guard station.

In 2004 the award were given in honor of John Mashow, born in 1805 as a free Negro in Massachusetts and was the first black man to establish a prominent ship building business in the 1830’s.

In 2003 the awards were given in honor of Ms. Hope Becker, a long-time member of the Maritime College community, Ms. Becker, died of liver cancer in October of 2002. Hope, worked as a Counselor in Student Support Services, and then as an Assistant Director of Admissions. She was also longtime supporter of this Black History month dinner and her untimely death shook everyone who new and worked with her. Also, in 2003, due to the start of the war on Iraq, in lieu of honoring one of our historic figures a prayer was read so that we could remember those sailors who are away from their families putting life and limb at risk to serve this great country of ours.

In 2002 the awards were given in honor of Olaudah Equiano, (c.1745-1797) who was born in what is now Nigeria and was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. He eventually earned the price of his own freedom and made a life as a seaman, traveling around the world, from the Mediterranean to the North Pole. He became involved in the movement to abolish the slave trade, an involvement which led to him writing and publishing his book The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789) a strongly abolitionist autobiography. We also honored Professor Charles Munsch, Class 1973, for his outstanding service to the students of this college as a mentor, coach, and teacher. There has always been positive interaction between Charlie and the minority cadets in his department.

In 2001 the awards were given in honor of Crispus Attucks, a seaman and patriot who was the first American to die in the struggle for American Independence during the Boston Massacre in 1770. We also honored Mrs. Carolyn Jones, past Director of Student Support Services who among her many accomplishments here at Maritime College was the originator, organizer and founder of this Black History Month Dinner. Carolyn was also extremely supportive and helpful when the O.B.M.G. was in its infancy and I for one will always be grateful for the legacy that she has left here at Maritime College.

In 2000 the awards were given in honor of Captain Absalom F. Boston, (1785-1855) African American whaling Captain who made headlines in 1822 by becoming the master of the whaling schooner Industry with an all-black crew. Captain Boston shocked the whaling community, when the Industry set sailed for a typical three to four year voyage, and he and his crew returned in six months. His critics were surprised that even with such a short trip, after all accounts were settled the voyage was considered a financial success.

In 1999 the awards were given in honor of James Forten Sr., (1766-1842) who is credited for inventing and perfecting a sail-positioning device that made guiding ships easier. William P. Powell, was honored, as he was known for helping and housing black sailors at his Coloured Sailors’ Home in New York during the 1840. We honored Mr. Carl Burnett, (1928-1998) class of 1950, the first African American Graduate of SUNY Maritime College who suddenly passed away in 1998. So that we never forget Mr. Burnett and his dedication to service to the college, cadets and the O.B.M.G., we renamed our academic achievement award and we now present it as the Carl F. Burnett Award.

In 1998 we gave awards in honor of Briton Hammon, the first published Black American prose writer with his work entitled, “A Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprising Deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro Man, —- Servant to General Winslow, of Marshfield, in New-England; Who Returned to Boston, after Having Been Absent almost Thirteen Years”. We honored, Walter Womack Branford (1928-1997) Class of 1952. He was the second African American graduate of S.U.N.Y. Maritime College and among his many other achievements founded the Double Eagle Steam Ship Company.

In 1997 we gave awards in honor of Captain Paul Cuffee (1759-1817) converted Quaker, successful ship owner and one of the wealthiest black Americans of his day. We also honored Captain Michael A. Healy (1839-1904). Captain Healy was the first black to become chief federal law enforcement officer and a commissioned Captain in the U.S. Coast Guard.

In 1996 we gave awards in honor of Don Nevill Archer (1953-1995); class of 1979 citizen of the Bahamas who while attending Maritime College was always devoted to the cultural exchange of his fellow classmates. We honored Captain Hugh N. Mulzac, (1886-1971) who was the first black captain of a United States merchant marine ship in modern times. We also honored, Marcus Garvey, (1887-1941) the Black Nationalist, orator, organizer who formed the first black mass movement organization and founder of Black Star Shipping Line.

In 1995 we gave awards in honor of Mr. Carl Burnett, Class of 1950, the first African American Graduate of S.U.N.Y. Maritime College and former College President, Admiral Floyd Miller, for his unyielding support for programs, like the Black History Dinner held at Maritime every year, The Cultural Club and our organization.

 

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