Captain Healy and the Art of Bridge Building
By Jade Greene, MBA, PHR, SHRM-CP, Northern and Rural Business Advisor
Captain Michael A. Healy has been recognized since the late 20th century as the first man of African American descent to command a ship of the United States government. His feats as a law enforcement officer, sailor, and a humanitarian in the Alaskan and Arctic areas remain unsurpassed. Equally important are his contributions that allowed Alaska to establish businesses, which lead to the recognition of Alaska as a highly valued contributor to the US economic pipeline. Healy was also instrumental in creating greater access to interior resources and forging respectful, trustworthy diplomatic relationships with the Indigenous populations of Alaska.
Captain Healy’s contributions to the economic growth of Alaska are still being leveraged to this day. Captain Healy remains an American hero and the naming of the city of Healy, Alaska is an enduring tribute to this remarkable African American humanitarian and business icon.
Captain Healy’s achievements are even more remarkable considering he was born a slave in Georgia and ran away to sea at age fifteen. His tragic beginnings as a mixed-race slave; the son of a slave and White Irish immigrant plantation owner, further fueled his ambitions. Indeed, by 1883, Healy had achieved the rank of Captain and in 1886 became the commander of the Revenue Cutter Bear acting as judge, doctor, and policeman to Alaska Natives and Whites of Alaska. The Bear was described as a floating government with Captain Healy saving many lives in northern and western maritime Alaska.
His duties included bringing medical aid to isolated villages, preventing the wholesale slaughter of marine wildlife, and exploring unknown waters and lands. He was also charged with arresting lawbreakers, putting down mutinies aboard merchant ships, fighting against the smuggling of illegal liquor and firearms, and rescuing shipwrecked sailors.
Captain Healy was ahead of his time and will always be lauded as a businessman and humanitarian who created bridges across racial, cultural, and economic divides.
Murphy, J. (2020) Portrait of Captain Michael A. Healy. Retrieved from https://www.history.uscg.mil/Browse-by-Topic/Notable-People/Minorities/African-Americans/African-American-Chronology/Portrait-of-Captain-Michael-A-Healy/
Included in the Alaska SBDC’s February 2021 newsletter.