Washington, D.C. – On Monday, July 17, on the 73rd anniversary of the Port Chicago tragedy, Congressmembers Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) introduced a House Resolution calling for the public exoneration of the Port Chicago 50. The resolution is part of their ongoing effort to bring attention to the injustice suffered by the Port Chicago 50, a group of African American sailors who were wrongly charged with mutiny following the deadliest home front disaster of World War II at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in California.
They’re continuing the efforts begun by former Congressman George Miller.
They’re continuing the efforts begun by former Congressman George Miller. According to a July 5, 2002 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Miller (D-Martinez) lobbied to get the the sailors’ convictions overturned and to get a presidential pardon in 1999 for one of the sailors, Frederick Meeks. Miller introduced legislation to make the Port Chicago National Memorial into a National Park.
After experiencing segregation in the Navy, 320 African American munitions sailors, who were not properly trained or supported, were killed and another 115 injured when a cargo vessel exploded. This incident accounted for more than 15 percent of all African American Naval casualties during WWII. When 50 of these men understandably refused to return to the unsafe working conditions that killed their fellow sailors, they were discriminately charged and convicted of mutiny.
“For 73 years the names of 50 brave sailors have been sullied by the racial discrimination they experienced during their service in World War II,” said DeSaulnier. “Given today’s political climate, there is no better moment in America to unite against discrimination and inequality. While we cannot erase the memories of the past, we can express our gratitude for the Port Chicago 50 and ultimately set the record straight through exoneration. An important step in healing our country is recognizing and correcting our past mistakes.”
“As the daughter of a veteran, I wholeheartedly appreciate the sacrifice made by the men and women who bravely serve to protect our freedom. That is why we must exonerate the 50 African-American sailors, who boldly stood against discrimination and refused to return to unsafe work conditions,” said Congresswoman Lee. “It’s past time to honor them, not only for their pivotal role in the World War II home front effort, but also for their unwavering commitment for justice. I am grateful to Congressman DeSaulnier for his staying the course on this vitally important issue.”
DeSaulnier and Lee first introduced this resolution last Congress, and jointly sent a letter to former President Obama requesting he acknowledge the injustice suffered by these sailors and remove these racially biased convictions from their records.
Additionally, DeSaulnier successfully included a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which required the Navy to investigate the circumstances surrounding the treatment of sailors at Port Chicago. DeSaulnier has also called upon the Smithsonian Institution to include information about the Port Chicago 50 in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.
To read more about the Port Chicago explosion see the History Channel website at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/port-chicago-disaster. To read more including a list of those who perished, visit http://www.usmm.org/portchicago.html.