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By Mark Bell | July 7, 2014

This documentary from Al Santana and Denise B. Santiago focuses on the experiences of African-American and Puerto Rican men and women that served in the U.S. Merchant Marine from the 1930s through the 1980s. For many of these individuals, the Merchant Marine offered an opportunity to escape from crushing poverty and literally sail away from the racially motivated restrictions of a segregated society.

The film provides an invaluable record of several long-forgotten landmarks in American history: the formation of the National Maritime Union in 1937, with its then-revolutionary pledge to treat all people as equals; the barrier breaking achievement of Hugh Malzac in becoming the first black captain of a Merchant Marine vessel – he needed to receive his training in England after being refused instructions in the United States; the tragic loss of life among the Merchant Marines during World War II, second only to the U.S. Marine Corps in terms of the number of fatalities per branch of service; the unusual opportunities afforded to women who sought careers in the Merchant Marine; and the shameful blacklisting of maritime union executives during the McCarthy era, which included the deportation of Jamaican-born union leader Ferdinand Smith.

The film also focuses on more contemporary issues facing now-retired Merchant Marine veterans, including stagnant pension plans and problems achieving quality health care coverage.

This intelligent and well-produced endeavor is a compelling triumph of non-fiction filmmaking, and it is highly recommended for anyone with a passion of learning more about the issues that shaped the United States in the 20th century.

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