*The deadly blast at Port Chicago Naval Magazine in 1944 has now been duly documented in history. An explosion equivalent to 5000 tons of TNT killed 320 sailors. 202 were African-American, because at the time the Negro sailors were disproportionately assigned the risky duties of loading extremely deadly ammunition from locomotives and onto cargo ships headed for battle ground during World War II.
Fifty of the survivors refused to return to their previous duties without further training and safety precautions. Though they had great reason to protest for better work conditions, their demand was met with a guilty charge of mutiny, after a lengthy court martial. The long road to some semblance of justice and honorable memories for the deceased, as well as the survivors, has been a vigil and a shared vision by many individuals and organizations.
A symposium on “Race & The Military During World War II” takes place with noted speakers and authors including Robert Allen, author of The Port Chicago Mutiny, from 8:30 am to 1:30pm on July 17th, 2014 at the Diablo Valley College, and on Saturday, July 19th there will also be an official 70th Commemoration at the Port Chicago National Memorial (Richmond Shipyard No. Three) in Contra Costa County, California. Both events are free . Registration is required for the symposium by calling (925)695-PORT (7678) or via http://portchicagomemorial.org/ Some form of honor is now enshrined for the sailors who lost their lives in the form of The Port Chicago Memorial.
The Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center also pays homage to Port Chicago at their website with a photo tribute, and other historic information. The BHERC got involved in 1998 by launching a Port Chicago Survivors Support Committee. This provided for a cohesive annual gathering of survivors & their families, and also a continued commitment to raising awareness about the acts of heroism, despite the stench of injustice that prevailed, even in our nation’s own military system at the time.
35th District State Senator Rod Wright from California and U. S. Congressman George Miller issued resolutions that led to The Port Chicago Memorial site, which was dedicated in 1994. The site now has national park status at its location at the Concord Naval Weapons Station.
Sandra Evers-Manly and The Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center have brought Port Chicago survivors and their families to the memorial each year, as well as to the Golden Gate National Cemetery in the Bay Area. The BHERC has also hosted other tributes and offered other means of support, such as the 55th commemoration in 1999 in Los Angeles (Pictured above). At the time five of the living African American survivors remained. It is inarguable that what happened on that dreadful day 70 years ago at Port Chicago, and the actions of heroic sailors in the aftermath, helped to end segregation and racist policies in the United States Navy. Port Chicago is one of America’s darkest and long forgotten secrets. The black sailors who served their country under horrific conditions deserve recognition for their journey in the segregated Navy.
Since 1999 the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC), under the leadership of Sandra Evers-Manly, who formed a support group for the African American men who served in Port Chicago, brings them together to commemorate the tragic day of July 17, 1944. While most of the survivors have passed on, some of them still live and the BHERC commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Port Chicago Blast – the largest military disaster on American soil.
For detailed information about Port Chicago symposiums, and events contact BHERC at (310)284-3170 or visit online at www.bherc.org.
Below, EURweb presents a special edition rebroadcast of “Port Chicago: Singed and Unsung Heroes By The Sea.” Listen to this compelling story.