CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA — This July saw the 77th anniversary of the Port Chicago Disaster. A small group came together to commemorate the tragic event. Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) said “I was humbled to join the Friends of Port Chicago at the site of this tragedy to honor the lives lost and reflect on the work still ahead of us in the pursuit of racial justice.”
The explosion caused the greatest homeland loss of life of World War II.
Representatives DeSaulnier and Barbara Lee (CA-13) have introduced a House Resolution to recognize the victims of the Port Chicago explosion of July 17, 1944. The resolution also exonerates the 50 African-American sailors unjustly court-martialed by the Navy following the tragedy.
This resolution is part of an ongoing effort to bring attention to the injustice perpetrated against the Port Chicago 50, a group of African American sailors who the U.S. Navy wrongly convicted of mutiny.
The Port Chicago 50
After experiencing segregation in the Navy, 435 African American munitions sailors, who were not properly trained or supported, were killed or 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, the Navy discriminately charged them with and convicted them of mutiny.
“Making progress as a nation in the fight for racial justice requires confronting the darkest chapters of our past and righting historical wrongs, including the ones that happened in our own back yards,” said Congressman DeSaulnier. “By calling for the exoneration of the Port Chicago 50, our resolution would bring justice to these sailors and recognize their courage as well as honor the service and sacrifice of the victims of this disaster. I thank Congresswoman Lee for her continued partnership in addressing this historical injustice and honoring the memories of the Port Chicago 50.”
“The 50 African American sailors at Port Chicago who took a stand against discrimination should be remembered as heroes,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “The Port Chicago tragedy is another painful reminder of how our nation must confront its history of systemic racism. I am proud to stand with Rep. DeSaulnier to right this wrong and honor these men and their service.”
“Thank you once again to Rep. Mark DeSaulnier for carrying forward the exoneration idea,” said Rev. Diana McDaniel, President of The Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial. “We are most appreciative and are very hopeful that under our new President, Joseph Biden, and our new Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, that justice will prevail.”
Representatives DeSaulnier and Lee have introduced a version of this resolution in the 114th, 115th, and 116th Congresses. Together they 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, Congressman DeSaulnier successfully included a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Navy to investigate the circumstances surrounding the treatment of sailors at Port Chicago. This led to the Navy acknowledging the injustice that was served to the Port Chicago 50. DeSaulnier has also called upon the Smithsonian Institution to include information about the Port Chicago 50 in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.