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

by Steve Sheinkin

In the segregated military during World War II, Black sailors were responsible for... read more

In the segregated military during World War II, Black sailors were responsible for loading munitions at Port Chicago on the San Francisco Bay. They were given no training in how to handle the dangerous cargo, and often felt pressure to increase their speed. On July 17, 1944, a tremendous explosion resulted in the deaths of 320 sailors on the dock and in the ships being loaded. In the aftermath, surviving Black sailors were soon ordered back to loading munitions. A group of them refused, saying they would obey any order but that one, admitting they were afraid. Court–martialed and found guilty of mutiny, they were sentenced to 15 years hard labor in prison. Steve Sheinkin offers a mesmerizing account of individuals and events surrounding the trial of the men who became known as the “Port Chicago 50,” revealing the impact of racism and segregation within the military at that time. Thurgood Marshall, then with the NAACP, sat in on the trail and appealed the guilty verdict, but the appeal failed: To reverse the decision would be to admit the original trial was unjust. Political and public pressure resulted in the men’s release after fifteen months, but the mutiny convictions were never overturned. Sheinkin’s compelling narrative, written from a social justice perspective, draws on the full transcripts of interviews done with members of the Port Chicago 50 in the 1970s as well as on the trial transcript. These accounts and other research sources are thoroughly documented in an offering that is sure to evoke strong emotional responses among young adult readers. (Age 13 and older)

© Cooperative Children's Book Center, Univ. of Wisconsin - Madison, 2015

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