African American Sailors & Fishermen Throughout History

African American Sailors & Anglers Throughout History

Written by Boatsetter Team
February 1, 2023

Last Updated on February 14, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

African American sailors and anglers have made a mark on history, and many who did also made their mark on the crews with whom they served. The feats they accomplished, often against exceedingly high odds, are notable.

In honor of Black History Month, we’ve compiled a list of a few significant men and women throughout history who’s contributions played a role in shaping various nautical communities across the world. Some acted as captains aboard vessels, while others as crew during their incredible journeys through maritime history.

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Doris “Dorie” Miller, United States Navy, Cook third class

Born October 12, 1919, Waco, Texas

Died November 24, 1943, on Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands

U.S. Navy cook, Doris “Dorie” Miller, epitomized the phrase “going above and beyond the call of duty.” As a result of his actions on December 7, 1941, he became the first African American to receive the Navy Cross for valor.

Miller was stationed at Pearl Harbor aboard the U.S.S. West Virginia and was below deck doing laundry when the Japanese attacked. When he arrived at his battle station, Miller found that his gun magazine had been destroyed by enemy fire. It was then that an officer asked him to carry the ship’s captain, already mortally wounded by shrapnel, to safety. 

When he returned to the ship, Miller found an empty battle station and manned a .50 caliber machine gun (despite never having used one before). After running out of ammunition, Miller began carrying injured sailors out of further harm’s way, saving the lives of many who would have otherwise died that day.

Two years after Pearl Harbor, Miller died in the line of duty when his ship was torpedoed off the coast of the Butaritari Atoll in the Gilbert Islands. Although his tenure with the U.S. Navy was short-lived, his bravery in the face of danger made him a legend in the annals of African American sailors.

Lynn Alfred “Lindsay” Williams, III

Born June 29, 1939, in Evanston, Illinois

In 1964, Lynn Alfred “Lindsay” Williams III partnered with helmsman Dick Stearns to represent the Chicago Yacht Club in Tokyo, Japan’s summer Olympics. They won silver medals, sailing Star Class boats, making Williams the first African American to win the honor. But unfortunately, little can be found about Williams, and after winning the Olympics, information about this sailor is vague.

Alfred Williams – Bass Master!

His first fishing memories were on the Pearl River in Mississippi, where people of all races would gather on the banks of the river to fish. It was perch and brim that he caught there, while his fascination for bass didn’t come until he read his first copy of Bassmaster Magazine.

After an 18-month tour in Vietnam, Alfred bought a runabout with a 50 horsepower motor, and his pursuit of a prize bass began in earnest.

As the first African American to qualify in the 1983 Bassmaster Classic, Williams and his partner placed 33rd. Nevertheless, he had ten top finishes in multiple tournaments with over 50 boats, and sometimes as many as 300, over his professional career.

Carl Maxie Brashear

Born January 19, 1931, in Tonieville, Kentucky

Died July 25, 2006, at the Medical Center Portsmouth

At 17,  Carl Maxie Brashear tried to join the U.S. Navy. Denied at first, he didn’t give up. On February 25, 1948, Brashear began his career at the U.S. Navy Diving and Salvage School in Bayonne, New Jersey.

On January 17, 1966, while onboard the U.S.S. Hoist, he was helping recover a hydrogen bomb when a piece of equipment failed, throwing a pipe across the deck. Brashear pushed his crew mates out of harm’s way; however, the pipe sheared his leg, and he almost died from loss of blood. After his recovery and rehabilitation, he returned to diving in 1967 and was re-certified as a navy diver a year later. In 1970, he became a master diver and retired from the Navy in 1993.

The 2000’s Hollywood film, Men of Honor, is based on his life.

Captain Gail Harris, United States Navy, Retired

Born June 23, 1949, in East Orange, New Jersey

Captain Gail Harris was raised in Newark, New Jersey, and received her Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Drew University in 1971. Harris joined the Navy in 1973 and was commissioned as a U.S. Navy Captain. She was the first African American woman to serve as a naval intelligence officer in a Navy aviation squadron.

Upon retiring in 2001, Captain Harris was the highest-ranking African American woman in the Navy. Although influential during her naval career, she also worked for Lockheed Martin as a subject matter specialist speaker and is known to be a prolific writer.

Olivia Juliette Hooker

Born February 12, 1915, Muskogee, Oklahoma

Died November 21, 2018, White Plains, New York

Olivia Juliette Hooker became the first African American woman to join the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in 1945. She became a SPAR (Semper Paratus Always Ready). During World War II, she earned the rank of Yeoman, Second Class, and served with the USCG until her unit was disbanded in 1946 after the war had ended.

After her service with the USCG, Hooker attended Fordham University and earned a degree in Psychology. After receiving her Master’s in psychology, she began her career at a women’s correctional facility in Albany County, New York.

Hooker found that many of the women in the facility were considered to have severe learning disabilities; however, she worked to reevaluate the status of the women and helped many of them pursue better education and employment.

At the age of 87, after a long career, Hooker joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Yonkers, New York, and served as a volunteer. She died of natural causes at her home in White Plains, New York on November 21, 2018, at the age of 103.

Her legacy lives on as the name of the Dining Facility at the Staten Island Coast Guard station. The training facility at the USCG headquarters in Washington, D.C., is also named after her. Although gone now, Hooker blazed a trail for African Americans who came after her.

African Americans in the Maritime World

The men and women listed above are just a few of the many who have left their mark on boating, sailing, and maritime communities across the globe. Without the contribution of many other African Americans, who are not listed here, who carried out the work of whalers, anglers, surfers, sailors, and others, the world would be a very different place.

We are proud to honor and celebrate the lives of all the African American men and women who have made significant contributions and achievements across all segments of the nautical community.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2022 and updated in February 2023.

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