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The Port Chicago Disaster The Largest Mass Mutiny In U.S. Naval History


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Title: The Port Chicago Disaster The Largest Mass Mutiny In U.S. Naval History

The Port Chicago Disaster The Largest Mass
Mutiny In U.S. Naval History
  • By
  • Valerie Howard

Table of Contents
  • The Site
  • The Explosion
  • The Mutiny
  • The Court Martial
  • The Pardon

Port Chicago
  • Constructed on December 9, 1941
  • Two days after attack on Pearl Harbor
  • Purpose to load ships with ammunition
  • Destination of ships the Pacific (fighting zone)
  • Ammunition arrived by train from Hawthorne,

Jim Crow Laws 1876-1965
  • U.S. Military was segregated
  • The norm, all U.S. Military officers were White
  • All difficult and dangerous work assigned to
    African American Navy personnel

Conditions For Sailors
  • 125 men worked three shifts (8 hours each)
  • Received no training in handling ammunition
  • Sailors worked without gloves
  • New workers werent given instructions

Slave Like
  • There was tremendous pressure to speed up the
  • Officers made bets on the quantity of ammunition
    their unit would load in an 8 hour shift.
  • The men were speeded up by threats of punishment.
    It was backbreaking, dangerous work.

U.S. Navy
  • In 1932, the Navy again recruited Blacks,
  • Limited in numbers
  • Confined to menial tasks
  • Primarily duty was mess men (kitchen helpers)
  • There were no Black officers.
  • In 1942, the Navy reluctantly accepted blacks for
    general service

The Way It Was
  • The Navy assured Black sailors that weapons
    didnt have detonators
  • U.S. Coast Guard were responsible for safety
  • They pulled their men (all White) out of Port
    Chicago because of unsafe conditions

  • High explosive
  • Incendiary bombs
  • Depth charges, and ammunition
  • 4,606 tons of munitions in all.
  • There were sixteen rail cars on the pier with
    another 429 tons

The Explosion
  • On the evening of July 17, 1944 there were two
    ships being loaded at the pier.
  • The Liberty ship SS E.A. Bryan, after 4 days of
    loading, had about 4,600 tons of ammunition and
    explosives on board
  • On board the ship were 31 U.S. Merchant Marine
    crew and 13 Naval Armed Guard.

  • Also docked at the pier was the SS Quinault
    Victory being loaded by about 100 black men for
    its maiden voyage.
  • On board were 36 crew and 17 Armed Guard.
  • Besides 430 tons of bombs waiting to be loaded,
    the pier held a locomotive and 16 boxcars with
    its crew of three civilians, and a marine sentry.

  • At 1018 an Army Air Force plane flying at 9,000
    feet saw pieces of white hot metal, some as large
    as a house, fly straight up past them.
  • According to the co-pilot, the "fireworks
    display" lasted about one minute. The explosion
    was heard 200 miles away.

  • 320 Black enlisted men were killed
  • 390 naval and non-listed personal injured

  • The explosion at Port Chicago accounted for
    15 of all African-American casualties of World
    War II.

  • No safety changes had been made after the deadly
  • The black ammunition handlers feared loading
    ammunition again
  • After an accident of this magnitude, it was
    customary for the Navy to grant 30-day survivors'
    leave for visitation of family.
  • White officers received leave
  • No leave was granted for the Black sailors,
    hospitalized or not.

  • Devastated by the explosion that killed over 300
    friends and fellow service men and exhausted by
    the cleanup of debris and human remains, 258
    African American seamen refused to return to the
    job of loading bombs. There were no new
    safeguards put in place with the exception of an
    issuance of gloves for the workers.

  • Most of the men were interviewed separately to
    see if they were willing to return to work.
  • Those that refused were imprisoned on a barge in
    the Summer heat for three days.
  • Of the 328 men in the three divisions, 258 were
    on the barge.
  • 44 men still refused to return to work. Six later
    didn't show for work and were added to list to
    make 50 being accused of mutiny.

  • Four days after the explosion a Naval Court of
    Inquiry was convened to "inquire into the
    circumstances attending the explosion.
  • Over 39 days, 125 witnesses were called to
    testify. Only six were black and none of those
    were from the group resisting.
  • Black sailors were not informed that the Navy was
    conducting an investigation.

The Court Martial
Stage 1
  • All given bad conduct discharges and docked three
    months pay.
  • Fifty enlisted black men were tried for mutiny.
  • The men stated they were willing to follow
    orders, but were afraid to handle ammunition
    under unchanged circumstances.

Stage 2
  • In September of 1944, the remaining 50 men faced
    a trial that lasted 32 days. The men were tried
    by seven white senior Navy officers, six as jury
    and one as judge.

Stage 3
  • In 1945 the Navy officially desegregated.
  • In January 1946 the 50 "mutineers" were released
    from prison, but had to remain in the Navy. They
    were sent to the South Pacific in small groups
    for a "probationary period," and gradually

  • All 50 were found guilty of "mutiny," and
    sentenced to 15 years.
  • Review of the sentence brought reductions for 40
    of the men to sentences of 8 to 12 years.
  • An appeal by Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP was

The Process
  • 80 minutes of deliberation
  • All 50 were found guilty of "mutiny,
  • All of the men were dishonorably discharged
  • Sentenced from 8 to 15 years in jail.

The Pardon
  • In September 1999, a petition by Freddie Meeks
    (one of three sailors still living) was bolstered
    by 37 members of Congress including George
    Miller, the US representative for the district
    containing the disaster. The 37 Congressmen sent
    a letter to President Bill Clinton and in
    December 1999 Clinton pardoned Meeks. Meeks died
    several years later in June 2003.93 Efforts to
    posthumously exonerate all 50 sailors have
    continued. In 2004, author Robert L. Allen was
    reported as saying "...even for today it's
    important to have these convictions set

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
  • The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National
  • Memorial was dedicated in 1994 to the lives
  • lost in the explosion.

Lesson Plan
  • Topic Port Chicago Disaster
  • Grade 9-12
  • Objectives
  • Knowing ones history (culture)
  • Improving researching skills
  • Understanding causes and effects

Lesson Plan
  • Pre-requisites
  • Able to use a computer
  • Research subject matter
  • Materials
  • Laptop/desktop computer
  • Internet

Lesson Plan
  • Activities
  • Research using books, periodicals and the
  • Students collaborating to obtain data concerning
  • Students (groups) create their own blog and or
    wiki about subject
  • Students will video-tape group presentation of
    historical event

Lesson Plan
  • Closure
  • Students will post there finding on blog or wiki
  • Students will complete an assessment and critique
    their work
  • References
  • http//
  • http//
  • http//

The End