The longest UNRRA livestock trip of which I am aware lasted five months. The 32 seagoing cowboys who signed on to the S. S. Carroll Victory in November 1946 were aware that the ship would take horses to Greece and then go down to South Africa to pick up more horses to take back to Greece, and possibly repeat the trip to South Africa, which it did. I have a number of accounts of this trip and will share their stories over the next several posts.
Charlie Lord signed on to the Carroll Victory at age 26 with a mission in mind: documenting the trip photographically for publication. Lord had spent three-and-a-half years in Civilian Public Service during World War II, serving part of that time at the Philadelphia State Mental Hospital at Byberry. In May 1946, Life magazine had published some of Lord’s photographs, taken on the sly, of the horrendous conditions and treatment of the mentally ill. These images shocked the country and gave impetus to a reform movement for more humane treatment of mentally ill persons. Lord knew that UNRRA seagoing cowboy crews were often interracial, following the success of the experimental interracial crew during the summer; so this time around, in the age of Jim Crow, Lord hoped to capture a story of an interracial seagoing cowboy crew working together in harmony.
Lord wrote a postcard to his wife September 26 after arriving at the Naval Landing Building in Norfolk, Virginia, to get his seaman’s papers. What he saw in Virginia troubled him. “The segregation burns me up,” he told her. “It cuts my heart every time I step on a street-car, bus, or ferry and see a little sign ‘Segregation of Races,’ a synopsis of laws of Va. as effective June 11, 1946 etc. Every motorman is a deputy sheriff in case of trouble!”
A maritime strike kept Lord waiting a month in Newport News, Virginia, before he was able to sign on to a ship. He took advantage of the time to take photos of the Terminal Stockyards where the livestock were collected, inspected, and culled and photos of the Brethren Service Center office.
“I talked with the fellows at BSC office about the article for Life,” he told his wife. “They are quite interested and will give me full cooperation. They think UNRRA will too.”
When shipping resumed, Lord had a choice between a ship headed for Poland or a ship going to Greece and South Africa – a choice he had to make before knowing the racial makeup of the cowboy crew. He chose the longer trip. “I hope it is the wisest course,” he told his wife. “It will lose much of its significance if the interracial angle falls through. . . . I should be able to get 2 or 3 stories out of the trip, one using pictures only of Greece and back for a typical trip, one using all pictures for an amazing trip and a very non-typical one, and one emphasizing the interracial aspect for Look or Ebony perhaps. It seems an opportunity impossible to pass up. It is almost the first and last time a person can make such a trip without paying a lot for it probably.”
“This trip means endless photographic opportunities, but alas, that means endless film. . . . I will be in Greece 3 different times for several days each time, at two ports in Africa with a chance to spend a few days ashore, each time we’ll go through Suez Canal, along Egypt, and when loaded, we may even go around Cape Horn and up western coast clear around Africa to save horses from the terrific heat of the Suez. The water temperature itself gets up to 90º they say.”
Next post: Life on board