BALTIMORE – Jacob Green, an African American seaman who braved Nazi U-boats while supplying the Soviet Union during World War II, and later served as chairman of the Communist Party of Maryland, died Feb. 19. He was 107.
The Rev. Esther M. Holimon, pastor of Union Memorial United Methodist Church told the crowd at Green’s funeral, “He had his sea-legs at sea and in life knew how to endure the storms of life.”
Born June 28, 1902 in Charleston, S.C., Green worked as a fisherman, coal yard worker, and bander in a cotton mill before going to sea in a sailing ship in 1927, an age when “seamen were made of iron and ships were made of wood.”
While unemployed in New York someone handed him a copy of the Daily Worker. He joined the Communist Party in 1930. In 1937, he helped found the National Maritime Union (NMU), a strong, left-led union that fought the shipowners’ starvation wages and brutal working conditions winning dramatic improvements for seafarers. His most prized possession was his NMU union membership book #414.
During World War II, Green sailed aboard Liberty ships delivering “lend-lease” armaments and food to Great Britain. He also made several voyages to the Soviet Union on the dreaded “Murmansk Run.” Scores of these ships were torpedoed by the Nazis. Green suffered permanent deafness from anti-aircraft fire repelling Nazi dive-bombers.
Green rose through union ranks and when he moved to Maryland, was chosen as an NMU patrolman (business agent) for the Port of Baltimore, serving from 1944-1948.
Howard Silverberg, a close friend and fellow NMU seaman, wrote in a tribute, that Green “was known among seamen in every port as a fighter for their union rights and an expert on the union contract. He stood up to the shipowners, settled the ‘beefs,’ and rejected open bribes from shipping agents.”
Green, known to his many friends and associates as Jake, was a great storyteller. Among his favorites was the fight against Jim Crow on the Baltimore waterfront in the mid-1940s. Coffee shops served white seamen coffee in porcelain mugs but Black seamen in paper cups. A team of NMU seamen, African American and white, went one morning and ordered coffee at a popular café. “As soon as the waiter finished serving, the white seamen handed their mugs to us and we handed our paper cups to them,” Green would say with a chuckle. It was a sit-in 20 years before the famous lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, that galvanized the nation to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A self-educated man, Green counted among his friends the great Paul Robeson, W.E.B. DuBois, the “Communist Councilman from Harlem” Benjamin Davis, fellow Marylander George A. Meyers who was president of the Maryland-D.C. Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), and Ferdinand Smith, the Jamaican-born NMU secretary-treasurer.
The U.S. Coast Guard “screened” Green during the 1950 anti-Communist witch-hunts, stripping him and many other seamen of their seaman’s papers. Green was forced to seek work as a low-wage janitor in Baltimore to support himself, his wife Dorothy and their daughter, Cathy.
Green was active in all the struggles for peace and justice in Baltimore and Maryland well into his 90s. He served as chair of the CP of Maryland from 1964 until 1985. He is survived by daughter Cathy Lynn Harden, eight grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews. Dorothy, his wife of 59 years, died in December 2006.
At his funeral, a U.S. Coast Guard honor guard folded and presented Ms. Harden with an American flag, recognition of Jacob Green’s heroic service to the nation during the war to defeat fascism.
Photo: Jake Green outside of the New Era Book Shop, 1975. (PW photo)