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Captain William “Bill” Pinckney was the first African American to solo-circumnavigate the world via Cape Horn (the hard way). Pinckney was honored by senators, former President George Bush, and foreign dignitaries for his dedication to education and his numerous other accomplishments.

William Pinckney was born on September 15, 1935, in Chicago. Attending public schools in Chicago, Pinckney joined the U.S. Navy after graduating from high school in 1954.
After having served for eight years in the Navy, Pinckney became involved in the cosmetics industry, first as a freelance make-up artist, then, in 1973, as a marketing manager for Revlon. In 1977, Pinckney became the director of marketing at John Prod, another cosmetics company. Going to work for the city of Chicago in 1980, Pinckney took a post as a public information officer with the Department of Human Services, from which he retired in 1983.

Throughout the course of his career, Pinckney’s real passion remained sailing. Having sailed the Great Lakes and oceans for more than thirty years, Pinckney decided to embark on a solo trip around the globe in 1990. Pinckney’s route took him around the dangerous tip of South America, considered to be some of the most treacherous waters in the world; upon successfully realizing his dream, he was honored as the Chicago Yacht Club’s Yachtsman of the Year in 1992, and Chicago Magazine named him Chicagoan of the Year in 1999.

Combining his passion for sailing with his interest in history, particularly naval voyages of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, Pinckney’s next adventure was aboard the Freedom Schooner Amistad. In January 1999, Pinkney and his crew set out to retrace the Middle Passage slave trade routes; the purpose of the project was to educate people about the original Amistad, as well as about the slave trade and human rights. Pinckney teamed up with PBS and several corporations to create a television special, and to bring teachers from across the country on board en route so that they could experience the trip firsthand.

Pinckney also wrote a first-grade textbook, Captain Bill Pinckney’s Journey, which appeared in more than 5,000 schools across the country. Pinckney was honored by senators, former President George Bush, and foreign dignitaries for his dedication to education and his numerous other accomplishments. Pinkney was a trustee of Mystic Seaport, a museum devoted to the history of America’s interactions with the sea; and as a director of the American Sail Training Association.

Honors and Accomplishments

  • Past Commodore Belmont Yacht Club (Member of Chicago Yachting Association) Chicago 
  • Yachtsman of the Year Chicago Yachting Association
  • Member of the New York Yacht Club 1996-present
  • Past board member of Ocean Conservancy, American Sail Training Association, Trustee Mystic Seaport 1994-2007
  • Advisory Board Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute
  • Board member of Amistad America of Freedom Schooner Amistad a reproduction of the 1839 ship that was NOT a slave ship.
  • Sailed solo around the world via Cape Horn
  • Solo voyage involved 30,000 students in programs in Chicago and Boston of Math, Science, Geography and History. Via Satellite Transponder
  • Documentary “The Incredible Voyage of Bill Pinkney” won the George Foster Peabody Award for Children’s programing
  • A first-Grade reading text was written by Pinkney (Captain Bill Pinkney’s Journey) was part of the Basal reading program from Open Court/McGraw-Hill adapted by over 500 schools nationwide
  • The account of the Solo voyage was read into the record of the 102nd Congress by the Late Senator Edward Kennedy (D) MA
  • Master of Freedom Schooner AMISTAD 1998-2003. Visited major cities from Nova Scotia to Key West on U.S. Eastern Seaboard. The Great Lakes and Gulf Coast. England, Portugal and Sierra Leone 
  • Pinkney represented the ship at England’s commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the act in Parliament of the abolishment of the Slave trade (1807).  The ship arrived later in the year.
  • AMISTAD sailed into Havana Cuba under the U.S. Cuban and United Nations flags to celebrate International Slavery Remembrance Day and the tenth Anniversary of the launch of Amistad with Captain Pinkney at the helm. The first American ship to enter under all flags.
  • Founder and Expedition Leader of the Middle Passage Institute was a project to allow teachers to sail to Africa and develop curriculum about the effects of Trans-Atlantic trade on the cultures. The results of the voyage gave rise to a five-part video series for the University of Nebraska’s Educational materials Group title African Slavery.
  • Pinkney was awarded an Honorary degree ((Doctor of Public Administration) by Massachusetts Maritime Academy at Buzzards Bay, MA


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