THE DIGITAL REPOSITORY FOR THE BLACK EXPERIENCE
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"Never let a chance go by."
The first Black man of any nation to solo-circumnavigate the world via Cape Horn, William “Bill” Pinkney was born on September 15, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois to Marion Henderson and William Deltorius Pinkney. After graduating from Chicago’s Tilden Technical High School in 1954, Pinkney joined the U.S. Navy.
Following eight years of service in the Navy, Pinkney became involved in the cosmetics industry, first as a freelance make-up artist, then, in 1973, as a marketing manager for Revlon. In 1977, Pinkney was hired as the director of marketing for Johnson Products Company, another cosmetics firm, based in Chicago. In 1980, Pinkney took a post as director of public information for the Chicago Department of Human Services. Throughout the course of his career, Pinkney's passion remained sailing. Having sailed the Great Lakes and oceans for more than thirty years, Pinkney decided to embark upon his solo trip around the world in 1990 on his cutter The Commitment. His journey spanned 27,000 miles and lasted 22 months. Then, combining his passion for sailing with his interest in history, particularly naval voyages of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, Pinkney and his crew set out on the vessel Sortilege to retrace the Middle Passage slave trade routes. He teamed up with PBS and several corporations to create a television special and to bring teachers from across the country on board. Pinkney’s next adventure was as the first captain of the replica schooner Amistad from 2000 to 2003. He also captained the catamaran Lady Dee. Pinkney was the author of the autobiography As Long as It Takes (2006), which won the John Southam Award, and two children’s books: Captain Bill Pinkney's Journey (1994) and Sailing Commitment Around the World (2022). The 1994 documentary The Incredible Voyage of Bill Pinkney received a George Foster Peabody Award.
Pinkney served on the board of trustees of the Mystic Seaport Museum and was Commodore of the Belmont Yacht Club and a member of the New York Yacht Club and the International Association of Cape Horners.
Pinkney was the recipient of numerous honors and awards. He was recognized by President George H. W. Bush; Lord Mayor of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia; the Premier and President of Bermuda; and Senators Paul Simon, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy, who read an account of his voyage into the record of the 102nd Congress; and received the Illinois Governor’s Distinguished Achievement Award. Pinkney also was honored as the Chicago Yacht Club’s Yachtsman of the Year in 1992 and Chicago magazine named him a Chicagoan of the Year in 1999. He was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame and received their Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021 and received the Mystic Seaport Museum’s America and the Sea Award in 2022. Pinkney held honorary degrees from Becker College, Southern Connecticut State University, and Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Pinkney and his wife, Migdalia Pinkney, lived in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.
William "Bill" Pinkney was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on August 8, 2003.
Pinkney passed away on August 31, 2023 at the age of 87.