Two hundred and fifty-eight African-American World War II sailors were court-martialed, of whom fifty were convicted of mutiny, because they refused to continue loading munitions after an explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine near what is now the Concord Naval Weapons Station in California. They refused to return to work because they had been relegated to the dangerous job of loading munitions because of their race. It was the largest mass mutiny trial in U.S. Naval history.
On July 17, 1944, at 10:18 pm, an explosion occurred at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine involving 4,606 tons of munitions, killing 320 cargo handlers, crewmen, and sailors. According to the Navy’s own historical website (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq80-1.htm ), African-American Navy personnel units were assigned to the dangerous work of loading munitions at Port Chicago under the supervision of white officers. In his book “The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny Trial in U.S. Naval History,” author and U.C. Berkeley professor Dr. Robert Allen (http://africam.berkeley.edu/faculty/allen.html) quoted one of the African-American sailors convicted of mutiny as saying that the officers "encouraged" competition by the black sailors in loading munitions tonnage and threatened punishment or loss of privileges.
On August 9, 1944, 258 African-American Port Chicago sailors refused to return to the work of loading munitions. When given the chance to reconsider their decision, 208 of the 258 were willing to return to work. Instead, the 208 were subjected to summary courts-martial and given bad conduct discharges, and the remaining 50 were charged with mutiny. After 32 days of hearing, 80 minutes of deliberation, and despite the presence of Thurgood Marshall and his call for a formal investigation by the government into the circumstances of the work stoppage, all 50 men were convicted of mutiny. Marshall filed and argued an appeal on their behalf with the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Office in Washington, but the convictions were upheld. Forty-seven of the fifty received clemency, were released from prison, and eventually left the Navy “under honorable conditions,” but their mutiny convictions stood. Rep. George Miller (D-California), who represents the district where Port Chicago stood, sought to have the convictions of the 50 reversed, with no success. The National Bar Association passed a resolution in 1998 calling for pardons for the 50 convicted of mutiny, with no success. President Clinton pardoned Freddie Meeks, one of the 50 convicted of mutiny.
Now is the time for President Obama to grant redress of this racial wrong and pardon the remaining 257 of the African-American World War II sailors of Port Chicago who were court-martialed and/or convicted of mutiny, many of whom have passed away with this stain on their record of service to our country. No American serviceman or servicewoman should be or should have ever been singled out for the most dangerous jobs in the military based solely on race.
Make Black history. Sign the White House petition to pardon the remaining 257 African-American sailors of Port Chicago. The link is below.
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