The Port Chicago 50, Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin; 2014; $19.99; 200 pages; 978-1-59643-796-8; purchased from Multnomah County Library Title Wave Used Bookstore; 2/23/16-2/24/16
Why did I read this? I had heard about the Port Chicago 50 but I didn’t anything about what had actually happened.
In 1944 at Port Chicago, California U.S. Navy sailors were loading ammunition by hand onto several ships. They were loading all sizes of bombs. The U.S. Navy had allowed African-American sailors to enlist in the service, however they were only allowed to go to sea as mess men. The ammo handlers at Port Chicago were all African-American commanded by white officers. The officers were only minimally trained in how to load ammunition and the men themselves were given no training. The officers bet on which division would load the most ammunition per day. On July 17, 1944 two ships and munitions on the dock exploded killing 320 and injuring 390. Most of those killed were African-American sailors and no changes were instituted in the way ammo was handled. One month after the accident several men were asked to load a ship with ammunition. Due to the unsafe conditions 50 of the men refused to load. These men were charged with mutiny and subject to a mockery of a court martial. What they did did not meet the definition of mutiny but they were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. With the end of the war in 1945 men of the men’s sentences were commuted and the men were sent to sea and assigned menial duties. All of the Port Chicago 50 died with a conviction for mutiny still on their record. There are still people working to get the members of the 50 pardoned.
Did I learn anything? I had the knowledge that prejudice is an ugly thing which overrules common sense reinforced. I thought the men had mutinied but they had simply refused an order. The fix was in on the verdict of the court martial and all of these men should be pardoned. When I become I will do that along with pardoning the skipper of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.