WHAT DEFINES US: PROJECT LIBERTY
The origins of Project Liberty Ship lie back in 1978, when a seminar on Liberty ship preservation was held aboard the BROWN, which was then serving as a maritime high school operated by the City of New York. Those attending the seminar could foresee the day, rapidly approaching, when the last ship of that great fleet of over 2700 Libertys would face the breaker's torch or be sunk as an artificial fish reef, and they were determined to preserve at least one ship as a memorial museum on the East Coast.
With the backing of the National Maritime Historical Society (publisher of SEA HISTORY magazine), an organization was formed to work toward the preservation of S.S. JOHN W. BROWN. Although there were, at that time, several Libertys that might have been candidates for restoration, the BROWN was the logical choice. A small staff of volunteers began planning for the day when New York would close down its floating high school and the ship would become available. A membership drive was commenced and publication of a newsletter, "Liberty Log," was begun.
When the day finally arrived, in 1982, for the end of the ship's career as a schoolship, the group, now called Project Liberty Ship, was in the midst of a search for a suitable berth in New York Harbor at which to display the BROWN. Despite their best efforts, the Project could not locate a single berth in the entire harbor that would accept the ship. They were forced to stand and watch as JOHN W. BROWN was towed out of the harbor and down the coast to the James River Reserve Fleet in July of 1983.
While its membership slowly grew the Project's volunteer staff continued to search for a berth in New York and accomplished several other important steps. A law was passed in Congress transferring title of the ship from the Maritime Administration to Project Liberty Ship. Application was made, and accepted, for listing of the ship on the National Register of Historic Places. JOHN W. BROWN became a "National Register Ship," one of the very few such ships in the nation.
Finally, late in 1987, Project officers gave up their attempts to berth the BROWN in New York and turned to Baltimore. A meeting was held at the Baltimore Museum of Industry at the end of January 1988 to discuss the idea. They expected half a dozen people to attend and they got 40! Did we want the ship in Baltimore? The answer was a resounding, YES!!
From the original group who met at the museum a core committee was formed to begin the effort. "Project Liberty Ship Baltimore" went to work, with the full backing and support of the parent group in New York, to permanently display JOHN W. BROWN in the harbor of her birth.
Project Liberty Ship continues to grow. With nearly 2,000 members nationwide and in a number of foreign countries, with support of federal, state and local officials and with Baltimore's close-knit maritime community behind us, we are confident of success!