Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights


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Reader Personality Type
Roaring Brook Press January 2014
  • Character-Building Curriculum
  • Social Studies Curriculum

At  the conclusion of THE PORT CHICAGO 50, author Steve Sheinkin points outthat the  fifty defendants in this racist miscarriage of military justiceare all now  deceased, and so it is too late to fully remedy what was done tothem.  Nevertheless, as the author notes, there are people who know thestory who  are still seeking to exonerate the names of these men.Taking  Sheinkin’s point as an opportunity to make a difference, I decidedto write to  First Lady Michelle Obama.  I am hoping that she will bothencourage her  daughters to read this exceptional story and encourage herhusband to take steps  to clear the names of these fifty black soldiers whoseactions played a role in  jumpstarting the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.I  likewise encourage you to read THE PORT CHICAGO 50, to share it withyoung  people, and to send your own email messages to Mrs. Obama via thewhitehouse.gov  site.Dear  Mrs. Obama:Perhaps  back in one your African American studies classes at Princeton,you learned  something about the Port Chicago 50.  Perhaps you didn't.  I am ahuge  fan and student of American history, but I had never heard this storyinvolving  segregated black naval units, stationed here in the SanFrancisco Bay area at  Port Chicago during WWII, assigned to load bombs onto ships.I do know all  about these men now, thanks to the recently-published bookfor young people, THE  PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY, AND THE FIGHT FORCIVIL RIGHTS by Steve  Sheinkin.  Mr. Sheinkin, has come to be one of myfavorite storytellers of  American history for young people and has been winningquite a few awards along  the way for his well-researched books.  Ienthusiastically recommend that  you read this book and share it with yourdaughters.We  learn that the white officers who commanded the black units who werecarrying  out this extremely dangerous work made a horse race out of the workby placing  bets on how many tons of bombs the various divisions could loadonto the ships.  The officers then pressured the divisions to work evenfaster.  This  cavalier attitude toward safety and the expendability of blacksoldiers led to a  tragedy in 1944 in which 320 men were killed in a massiveexplosion felt 30  miles away in Berkeley.In  response, despite threats of being shot for disobedience, fifty braveservicemen  in the segregated units refused to resume loading bombs underthese oppressive  conditions.  The farce of a military proceeding that followedfound them  all guilty of treason and sentenced them to hard labor. WhileThurgood  Marshall’s efforts eventually resulted in a mitigation of thesentences, the  records of these fifty men have never been cleared.Having  grown up watching news of the Civil Rights Movement unfold, I foundyour  husband’s election to be a powerful and fulfilling experience. Yet Ikeep  learning about the unfinished business in our nation’s history. Thestory of the  Port Chicago 50, which preceded our lifetimes and yetcontributed to the  movement that was so important in our own era, has a final chapterwaiting to be  written: exonerating the names of these servicemen.It  would be so perfect if these victims of racism were posthumouslyvindicated by  our nation's first black president.  I am therefore hoping that youmight  read Mr. Sheinkin's book and help write this final  chapter.

Best  wishes,Richie  PartingtonRichie  Partington, MLIS

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations:   http://richiespicks.com

978-1-59643-796-8   208 pages  

User reviews

1 review
(Updated: April 28, 2014)
Spellbinding true story of an important chapter in history. During World War II, black men were only allowed to load munitions, cook and clean. They were told to load as quickly as possible and and even pitted against each other. The men were never giving any training in the safe handling of bombs.

One night a ship loaded with bombs blew up killing many men. The water was strewn with body parts. It was the biggest explosion that had ever occurred in history. Eventually they sent the men back to loading munitions. They were terrified. The men refused and after being given a severe talking to with the threat of execution, all but 50 went back to loading.

Eventually they were unfairly tried and found guilty of mutiny and were to be executed. Thurgood Marshall got behind the cause and while they were not put to death, they remained guilty of munity. Several asked for a pardon which president Clinton granted, but most said they didn't wasn't to be pardoned for something they hadn't done. The 50 have all passed away, but their bravery lives on.
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