September 9, 2013

Jazz singer Lena Horne christened liberty ship at Kaiser Shipyard

African American women and men honored for their work on liberty ships at Richmond yards during World War II

On May 7, 1943, just over seven decades ago, beloved singer and actress Lena Horne visited Richmond, Calif., to break the champagne over the bow of the SS George Washington Carver, the first Richmond-built ship to be named after an African American.

Miss Horne, sponsor of the ship, was joined by matron of honor Beatrice Turner in the launching ceremony. Turner was the first African American woman to be hired as a welder in the Kaiser Shipyards.

The Liberty Ship, named after the famous black scientist George Washington Carver, was constructed by the workforce at the Richmond Shipyard No. 1, which included many African Americans.

Bonaparte Louis, Jr.

Bonaparte Louis, Jr. (pictured above), one of the best chippers in the yard, was among the skilled workers who rushed the Carver to completion. The keel was first laid for the ship on April 12, 1943 and launched less than a month later.

Odie Mae Embry

Odie Mae Embry, pictured above at work on the SS Carver, was among the 1,000 black women who made up the 7,000 workers of African ancestry in the Richmond shipyards.

George Washington Carver, scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor, had died only 4 months before the launch. Lena Horne, singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer, died on May 9, 2010, at the age of 92.

Photos by E. F. Joseph, Office of War Information.