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.
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.
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.
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.
Labels: civil rights, National Bar Association, Port Chicago, Port Chicago Sailors, President Clinton, President Obama, racism, Rep. George Miller, White House Petition, World War II