Meet Jackson native Zeita Merchant – Historic selection for Rear Admiral in the United States Coast Guard

By Jackie Hampton,


Jackson native Zeita Merchant is the current Commanding Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Personnel Service Center. She is the first female African American to be appointed rear admiral lower half in Coast Guard history.
Congressman Thompson in a press release Monday stated:
“It is with great pride that I recognize the accomplishment of Captain Zeita Merchant, a Jackson, Mississippi native and graduate of Tougaloo College for her selection to the rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard. With this selection, she is now the first African-American female to be selected for Flag rank in the Coast Guard’s 233-year history.”
Captain Merchant has had several historic firsts, including her current position as Commander, USCG Sector New York where she is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of one of the nation’s busiest and most economically important port complexes moving hundreds of billions of dollars in cargo and tens of millions of passengers annually. Enjoying 26 years of active-duty service, Captain Merchant is a recognized authority in maritime safety and security and crisis management. She has served in a variety of assignments at the operational and executive levels and has been certified as one of the Coast Guard’s top Emergency Managers leading large-scale, multi-jurisdictional incident responses across the nation.
Captain Merchant holds a Doctorate of Business Administration and Master of Quality Systems Management from the National Graduate School at New England College of Business, as well as a Master of Public Administration from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Tougaloo College. In addition, she has served as a National Security Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Seminar XXI National Security and Foreign Affairs Fellow.
Captain Merchant has been honored with numerous professional, academic and community service awards, including her most recent awards as “Hero of the Harbor” and “Women Who Move the Nation.” Congratulations to Rear Admiral-select Merchant.
Merchant attended Rowan Middle School and Lanier High School in Jackson.
Carolyn Amerson, a retired teacher, recalls teaching Merchant science at Rowan. She described her as a very intelligent student who was always neat and conscious of presenting excellent work. Amerson said, “She was one of my best students ever and her mother was always involved in her daughter’s life, working hard with others in the Parents, Teachers Association. (PTA)
In the fall of 1994 Merchant enrolled at Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, MS, as a biology major. She was sure she would be heading to medical school right after graduation. But then, she passed a Coast Guard booth set up on campus. “Something changed that day,” recalls Merchant, as was reported in a recent Girl Scout Newsletter. ( “I had been contemplating how I was going to be able to pay my way through medical school and I was visualizing the debt adding up, so I decided to talk to the recruiter.”
During that conversation, she learned that if she was accepted into the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) program, not only would the Coast Guard pay her tuition, but they would pay her an annual $35,000 salary, too. “Hearing that I could get paid for going to school and that this was about the same amount of money my mom was making helped push me into the decision to pursue a Coast Guard career,” she says.
Tougaloo College graduate, Chazeman Jackson, a good friend that was at the event stated, “ There is no denying that my beloved soror Zenita Merchant is a leader and trailblazer. She has a list of many firsts, and yesterday we witnessed in the historic Richard Rogers Theatre her obtaining the rank of Rear Admiral in the U.S. Coast Guar becoming the first African-American woman to do so.
Attorney Amanda Green Alexander, of the Alexander Law Firm, attended the ceremony event held at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. She enrolled at Tougaloo College the same year as Merchant and they became good friends. She stated, “Zeita entered Tougaloo with a warm and loving spirit and devotion to family and scholarship. She was absolutely brilliant and very insightful.”
She shared with The Mississippi Link memories of Merchant and the celebration which family and friends experienced in New York City with her. “Zeita is by far a spectacular person inside and out. She epitomizes servant leadership, leading with compassion and kindness.”
As many shared in the multi-day celebration of her Change of Command, Alexander remembered her friend was always intentional. “Although we pledged different sororities (she’s a Delta and I’m an AKA), we stayed connected through our mutual friends who are her line sisters. As adults, we have been sharpening iron, through fun-filled girl trips or just sitting around the house chatting on the occasions when she returned to Jackson for our Tougaloo events.
Alexander spoke of her friend’s rich family history of love and devotion which was evidenced in the ceremony this past Monday. She was joined on stage by her loving mom, Mary Merchant and other relatives.
“When Zeita shared she might be considered for promotion to admiral, I immediately said to her what she has shared with me for many years, to lean on God for wisdom. As we all stood together with her on Monday beaming with joy, I was constantly reminded of Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and be in good health.” Zeita was destined for this moment and we are continuing to cover her with prayers and well wishes” stated Alexander.
See photos on page 15.

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