I googled the ship’s name and was pleasantly surprised to find lots of interesting information about it! I also found photos that depict the accommodations that Beauford (and fellow artist Herb Gentry) experienced aboard ship.
The Liberté was first christened as the SS Europa. It was a German ocean liner that made transatlantic voyages in five days. Captured by the Americans during World War II, the ship was given to France as part of the reparations that the defeated German nation was forced to pay.
The Europa was repainted in French colors and towed to Le Havre for refitting. It was renovated as a luxury passenger-liner, and was destined to replace France’s pride and joy, the SS Normandie, which was a casualty of the war. The refitting suffered two great setbacks. First, a violent storm wrenched the ship from its berth, causing it to collide with a partially submerged vessel in the harbor. This caused the Europa to sink. It was refloated several months later, towed to Saint Nazaire, and refurbished. A dock fire almost destroyed the ship there in 1949.
Once the fire was extinguished, work on the ship resumed at a feverish pace. Under the auspices of France’s Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT), the newly renamed SS Liberté finally set sail on its maiden voyage to New York City in 1950.
The vessel was quite luxurious, and was the pride of France’s passenger fleet for many years.
African Americans reportedly preferred sailing on French liners because they were better treated aboard these ships than on the rival Cunard British liners and on U.S. ships. Sarah Vaughn and W. E. B. and Shirley DuBois are among many African Americans who made the transatlantic voyage to Europe on the Liberté.
Click here to watch a home video made by passengers on the Liberté (exact date of film unknown).
The Liberté was taken out of service in 1961, with its farewell voyage departing New York and docking in Le Havre. In January 1962, it sailed for Italy, where it was scrapped.