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Passenger Memories: First Class to France aboard America's Flagship

The SS United States brought thousands of Americans to Europe for work and travel, many of them U.S. service members and their families.

Captain James McPherson and his wife Lillie had already lived and worked in Japan and Brooklyn before the army posted the family to France in 1958. Booked by the military into first-class accommodations on the SS United States, they sailed from Manhattan with their two young daughters and a great-aunt who moved with them to help care for the children.

Lillie McPherson and Captain James McPherson enjoy a bingo tournament aboard

the SS United States. Photograph courtesy of Rosalyn McPherson.

“It was a great time to relax with the children,” Lillie remembers. “We all enjoyed it tremendously and took advantage of just about everything we could on board.”

Originally from Louisiana and painfully familiar with the indignities African Americans experienced during segregation, the McPhersons were treated on board exactly the same as all other passengers — a prelude to the warm welcome they received from their new neighbors and friends in France. Daughter Rosalyn remembers particularly enjoying the swimming pool on the voyage, as pools were segregated in their home state. “You know that would never have happened in New Orleans.”

The SS United States in New York Harbor, 1958. Photograph courtesy of Jane Schuling.

Rosalyn McPherson now serves as a member of the SS United States Conservancy's Advisory Council, and has offered strategic planning support to the conceptualization of a future museum experience on board the ship. She recalls of the family's voyage,“It’s such an indelible memory. The trip transported me to a different world, and with what I experienced aboard and abroad I’ve been transporting myself to different worlds ever since.”


The stories of passengers and crew members who traveled aboard the SS United States are vital to the ship's history. We're preserving those stories through our Legacy Project, capturing the intangible history of America's Flagship. Do you have your own SS United States memories to share? Send us an email at

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