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

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

Автором Steve Sheinkin

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

Автором Steve Sheinkin

4.5/5 (11 оценки)
261 pages
2 hours
Jan 21, 2014


Written by Scribd Editors

New York Times bestselling author and Newbery Honor recipient Steve Sheinkin writes another children’s historical interest book with The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. The Port Chicago 50 has since gone on to become a National Book Award Finalist, a YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction finalist, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year award.

While it is not one of the country’s prouder moments, it is no secret that during World War II, the Navy was segregated. African-American soldiers were given tasks that were under dangerous conditions, such as loading munitions. In The Port Chicago 50, the story explores African-American soldiers’ experiences in the Navy stationed at Port Chicago.

At this port, African-American soldiers were instructed to load munitions on boats without training or safety protocols in place. Following an explosion, many of the soldiers refuse to continue loading the munitions. This group would later become known as the Port Chicago 50 and be court-martialed and tried for mutiny.

Jan 21, 2014

Об авторе

Steve Sheinkin is the writer and illustrator of The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West, for which he won Moment Magazine's Emerging Writer Award in children's literature; Rabbi Harvey Rides Again: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Folktales Let Loose in the Wild West and Rabbi Harvey vs. the Wisdom Kid: A Graphic Novel of Dueling Jewish Folktales in the Wild West. Steve Sheinkin is available to speak on the following topics: Drawing Comics Graphic Novels Jewish Folktales Jewish Wisdom

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The Port Chicago 50

















































































At some time, every Negro in the armed services asks himself what he is getting for the supreme sacrifice he is called upon to make.

Pittsburgh Courier, November 9, 1944


HE WAS GATHERING dirty laundry when the bombs started falling.

It was early on the morning of December 7, 1941, at the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Mess Attendant Dorie Miller had just gone on duty aboard the battleship USS West Virginia. A six-foot-three, 225-pound Texan, Miller was the ship’s heavyweight boxing champ. But his everyday duties were somewhat less challenging. As one of the ship’s African American mess attendants, he cooked and cleaned for the white sailors.

Miller was below deck, picking up clothes, when the first torpedo slammed into the side of the West Virginia. Sirens shrieked and a voice roared over the loudspeaker:

Japanese are attacking! All hands, General Quarters!

Miller ran to his assigned battle station, an ammunition magazine—and saw it had already been blown apart.

He raced up to the deck and looked up at a bright blue sky streaked with enemy planes and falling bombs. Japan’s massive attack had taken the base by surprise, and thunderous explosions were rocking American ships all over the harbor. Two direct hits cracked through the deck of the West Virginia, sending flames and shrapnel flying.

Amid the smoke and chaos, an officer saw Miller and shouted for him to help move the wounded. Miller began lifting men, carrying them farther from the spreading fires.

Then he spotted a dead gunner beside an anti-aircraft machine gun. He’d never been instructed in the operation of this weapon. But he’d seen it used. That was enough.

Jumping behind the gun, Miller tilted the barrel up and took aim at a Japanese plane. It wasn’t hard, he’d later say. I just pulled the trigger, and she worked fine.

As Miller blasted away, downing at least one enemy airplane, several more torpedoes blew gaping holes in the side of the West Virginia. The ship listed sharply to the left as it took on water.

The captain, who lay dying of a belly wound, ordered, Abandon ship!

Sailors started climbing over the edge of the ship, leaping into the water. Miller scrambled around the burning, tilting deck, helping wounded crewmembers escape the sinking ship before jumping to safety himself.

*   *   *

After the battle, an officer who had witnessed Miller’s bravery recommended him for the Navy Cross, the highest decoration given by the Navy. For distinguished devotion to duty, declared Miller’s official Navy Cross citation, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor.

In early 1942, soon after the United States had entered World War II, Admiral Chester Nimitz personally pinned the medal to Miller’s chest. This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race, Nimitz declared. I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.

Admiral Chester Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Dorie Miller, May 27, 1942.

And then Dorie Miller, one of the first American heroes of World War II, went back to collecting laundry. He was still just a mess attendant.

It was the only position open to black men in the United States Navy.


THE DAY AFTER JAPAN ATTACKED Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on Japan. Japan’s powerful ally, Germany, responded by declaring war on the United States. World War II was already raging across Europe, Africa, and Asia. Now the United States had officially entered the biggest war in human history.

We are now fighting to maintain our right to live among our world neighbors in freedom, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans in a radio address from the White House. We are now in the midst of a war, not for conquest, not for vengeance, but for a world in which this nation, and all that this nation represents, will be safe for our children.

Trucks with roof-mounted speakers cruised slowly through American cities, blaring the call to arms: Patriotic, red-blooded Americans! Join the Navy and help Uncle Sam hit back!

For black Americans this was not so simple. When they volunteered to fight as sailors, they were reminded of the Navy’s long-standing policy. They could serve on ships only as mess attendants.

*   *   *

It was a policy as old as the country itself.

When George Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775, he told recruiters to stop signing up black soldiers. The fact is, black volunteers had already fought in the war’s opening battles at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. But slave owners objected that arming African Americans could lead to slave rebellions, and Washington agreed not to accept more black soldiers. Two years of losing battles to the British, and soldiers to desertion and disease, changed the commander’s perspective. Washington needed men, no matter the color. Eventually, about 5,000 African Americans helped win the American Revolution.

Emanuel Leutze’s 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, accurately depicts a mixed-race regiment, with a black soldier rowing to Washington’s right.

The pattern was repeated soon after the Civil War erupted in 1861. At first the United States Army would not accept black men, fearing that to do so would offend the slave states that were still in the Union. Then, as the war dragged on, and the Union’s need for fighting men grew increasingly desperate, the policy changed. More than 200,000 black soldiers fought to save the Union and end slavery—but they did so in segregated units, led by white officers.

In the Spanish-American War, future president Teddy Roosevelt became a national hero for leading the charge up Cuba’s San Juan Hill. Actually, hundreds of African American soldiers were charging up the hill too, in separate, segregated units. By the time they reached the top, white and black soldiers were all mixed together, and together they took the hill. But when newspapers reported on the victory, Roosevelt and his white volunteers got the credit.

More than 350,000 African Americans served in World War I, nearly all in segregated labor battalions. They drove trucks, dug trenches, buried bodies. The military based its policy of using African Americans as laborers on the prejudiced assumption—one already decisively disproven by history—that black men would not make good combat soldiers.

The Harlem Hellfighters celebrate their arrival home from World War I in 1919.

Poor Negroes! one American general wrote in his diary during the war. Everyone feeling and saying that they are worthless as soldiers.

Tellingly, several African American regiments wound up under the command of the French army, where they were given a fair shot to fight, and fought well. One black regiment from New York, nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, spent 191 days in combat—longer than any white American unit. They won a pile of medals, and returned to New York City as heroes. But the policy of the American military did not change.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, just 5,000 African Americans served in the entire U.S. Navy, all as messmen. The Army offered slightly better opportunities in terms of training and access to promotion—but remained strictly segregated. The Marines and Army Air Corps (later renamed the Air Force) did not accept blacks at all until later in the war.

This policy, declared the War Department, referring to segregation, has proven satisfactory over a long period of years.

Satisfactory to the government, that is.

*   *   *

As the United States raced to prepare for global combat, civil rights groups challenged the Navy to abolish its racial restrictions. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox insisted there was nothing he could do.

True, there was an obvious contradiction in a nation fighting for freedom while denying it to its own citizens in the military. But, Secretary Knox explained, segregation and racism were deeply rooted facts of life in American society. These problems were not created by the military and were not the military’s problems to solve. Aboard ships, men were crammed into close quarters, making it impossible to keep the races segregated. Neither could they be integrated, Knox argued, because white sailors wouldn’t work well with black sailors, and certainly wouldn’t take commands from them. To desegregate the Navy, therefore, would hurt the war effort.

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox at his desk in 1943.

Knox concluded the only solution was to keep black men, other than those working as servants, off ships. The secretary insisted he was not a racist—simply a realist.

President Roosevelt accepted Knox’s logic, agreeing that this was no time to desegregate the Navy. To go the whole way at one fell swoop, he told Knox, would seriously impair the general average efficiency of the Navy.

But Roosevelt was also a politician, always looking ahead to the next election. He counted on strong support from African American voters, and was getting pressure from black leaders to do something about the military’s racial policies. So the president did what politicians often do—he looked for a compromise.

Secretary Knox unveiled the policy change in April 1942. The Navy would now begin accepting black volunteers for training as sailors, he announced. It sounded good, until you read the details. Black men could serve as sailors, but they’d be limited to low ranks; and they still could not serve aboard ships at sea, except as mess attendants.

African Americans were not impressed.

In its abrupt announcement of a change of policy, the Navy department actually insults the intelligence of the Negroes it should seek to enlist, charged an editorial in the Louisville Defender, an African American–owned newspaper.

It is difficult not to feel disgusted at the tricky, evasive, hypocritical manner in which the Secretary of the Navy has dealt with this problem, added a scathing editorial in another black paper, the Pittsburgh Courier. Roosevelt spoke in soaring phrases about America’s battle to preserve freedom and democracy around the globe—but where were those ideals here at home? If Negro youth are not good enough to fight alongside their white fellow Americans on land and sea in defense of their country, then this talk of democracy is hollow and meaningless.

In spite of the protests, the Navy went ahead with its plan.

*   *   *

And, in spite of the restrictions, plenty of young African Americans were eager to serve. That was certainly true of many of the men who would find themselves at a remote California naval base called Port Chicago.

In a speech at his high school graduation, seventeen-year-old Jack Crittenden spoke of Dorie Miller’s inspiring heroism at Pearl Harbor. All our men are facing the same enemy under the same flag, he told fellow students. And when more black men are given the opportunity to serve their country, they will prove themselves worthy of the trust placed in them. Give them a chance!

A Chicago teenager named Percy Robinson felt the same way. The feeling was that we wanted to go in, Robinson said of himself and his friends. We wanted to serve, and we wanted to get into combat, because all we were ever taught is that we were cowards, not capable of competing with the white man.

We felt patriotic toward our country, recalled Albert Williams, Jr., about his feelings when joining the Navy. Cause this is our country too.

Martin Bordenave was so eager to get into the Navy that he lied about his age and enlisted at sixteen.

Robert Routh was seventeen—old enough to enlist with a parent’s signature. Growing up on a Tennessee farm, in a home with no electricity or indoor plumbing, Routh

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  • A little-known history of 50 African-American sailors who were arrested after they refused to continue doing dangerous work that resulted in the deaths of many of their fellow servicemen.

    Scribd Editors

Отзывы читателей

  • (5/5)
    During WWII the Navy was segregated. Black soldiers were given tasks such as loading munitions. The conditions were dangerous. This book explores the experiences of African-American soldiers in the Navy stationed at Port Chicago. Their task was to load munitions on boats with no training and no safety protocols. After an explosion, many of the soldiers would not continue to load munitions. This group - known as the Port Chicago 50 - was court-martialed and tried for mutiny. The case became high profile and eventually laid the ground work for the desegregation in the military. Carefully researched and written in an accessible way, the book shares the stories of a specific group of soldiers while demonstrating the importance of their story in the larger context of WWII America and the armed forces.
  • (5/5)
    Hands down the best nonfiction book I've read all year, maybe even in a few years! I was soo enamored with this book that I finished it in under two hours. I simply could not put it down! The Port Chicago 50 talked about an event in history that I literally had no idea about, the largest mutiny trial in naval history and at the time one of the largest man made explosions history. The tagline for the novel sums it up, "Disaster, Mutiny, and the fight for Civil Rights." During the first half of the twentieth century all the United States armed forces units were segregated, including the Navy. Black men could join but they generally could not fight, they were relegated to doing all the cooking cleaning, loading, etc., because they were considered "unfit" for combat. At the start of WWII many black men signed up only to be disappointed that German POW's got better treatment then they did. This book focuses on a few units of all black Navy sailors who had the task of loading ammunition onto Naval ships. They had no training handling bombs, incendiary devices, and ammunition and it was only a matter of time before something disastrous happened. The higher ranked white sailors had all received several weeks worth of training but they weren't the ones handling the millions of pounds of bombs, their version of monitoring safety and supervising the black sailors included placing bets on which team could load the fastest. In this unsafe environment it came as no surprise that disaster inevitably struck. One night two explosions went off; sinking two massive Navy tankers and killing nearly 400 people (most of whom were black), the blast was soo massive that over a mile away windows were blown out and nearly 700 people were injured by flying glass and debris. Instead of learning from their mistakes, the Navy sent the remaining black sailors to another port to learn ammunition.... still with no training. Joe Small and 49 other black men refused to go back to work until they were given training and safety precautions, the Navy refused and tried all men with mutiny. This is their story and it needs to be heard. Before Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, and other Civil Rights heroes, there were these men who stood up to injustice and helped change the course of history.An absolute must read, I can't recommend this book enough!
  • (4/5)
    a very fast read, but interesting and gripping to see how the Navy treated blacks in the past, primarily during WWII.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent! Highly recommend if you like history, or even just like learning about how we (USA) treated African Americans in WWII days. It's an amazing story, one I hope we never ever repeat; and yet, today's world is much the same. Ferguson, Freddie Gray... and Port Chicago 50 shows how little has changed.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent telling of the abuse of blacks in the Navy during World War II. It was a Rosa Parks event that has been given little attention despite the changes in stimulated.
  • (5/5)
    Incredible story about a time and place not far from here--the inland San Francisco Bay. In 1944 a massive explosion killed 320 service men, 202 of them were black sailors who'd been loading ammunition. What comes next is a charge of mutiny and a fight for civil rights. This book brings history alive, and you may wonder why you have never heard of this disaster.
  • (5/5)
    An excellent, compelling work of nonfiction chronicling a little-known historical event that the author convincingly portrays as an early milestone in the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.
  • (3/5)
    This book tells the true story of segregation in the Navy during World War II. African Americans who joined the Navy to serve their country were not allowed to serve on ships. People thought they weren't smart or brave enough. But only the black men were given the job of loading ammunition onto the ships. This was a dangerous job and the men weren't even give the proper training. The officers bet on their crews to see who could load the fastest. Inevitably, an explosion occurred and many men were inured or killed. When the African American sailors decided they would not load ammunition unless conditions changed, they were charged with mutiny and told they could be shot. This book is part of my son's 8th grade English curriculum, so I decided to read the book along with him. I wasn't even aware of this story and I'm glad that I had the chance to read it. The author does a good job of describing the events that led up to the explosion and the actions of the sailors and the Navy afterwards. It is a bit dry at times, but it's a nonfiction story, so what do you expect. My son found it boring, but then again, he is not a fan of history or even reading (except for graphic novels or spy type stories). This is a great book for schools to use in English or History classes.
  • (5/5)
    The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin is a young adult nonfiction history of the Port Chicago explosion and its aftermath.Port Chicago, California, near Martinez along the southern coast of Suisun Bay, was a navy base and town that served as the shipping point for live munitions during WWII. Black men who wanted to serve their country were stationed at places like this, doing jobs their white counterparts were too scared to perform.On July 17, 1944 a massive explosion killed 300 people and leveled a large portion of naval yard. Among the survivors, 244 men, decided working conditions were too unsafe and they refused to return to work. Fifty of those men were singled out and charged with mutiny.The Port Chicago 50 covers an important piece of domestic WWII, and early Civil Rights history. It's a piece that has been overlooked and ignored in history books and shouldn't be.
  • (3/5)
    A YA non-fiction survey of this horrible Navy disaster at Port Chicago, in San Francisco Bay, CA. Definitely written for younger readers, Sheinkin follows the African American Navy men who were assigned the dangerous duty of unloading/loading ammunition, & after the terrible explosion, commanded to once more commence loading ammunition. 50 stalwart seamen refused - setting off a military court investigation & charges of mutiny for all 50, a growing media scrutiny of the overt discriminatory practices of the US Navy, & the involvement of the famous Thurgood Marshall, who appealed the men's "guilty" sentence all the way to the Secretary of the Navy himself, James Forrestal. His appeal was rejected but the Secretary knew discriminatory practices were hurting the Navy. By the end of WWII, this military branch began to integrate the men, black & white, on ships, and assign other races besides blacks to the dangerous ammunition job, among others. Built on the details of the men's experiences first coming to Port Chicago, the explosion and aftermath, the day the men refused to march down to the dock and start loading again, & the subsequent actions of the Naval officers and court. May become "dry" history by end of the story, but Sheinkin does a good job of using the men's words themselves, recalling what they heard, said and felt. Would be a great historical event for social studies classes to study, especially on African American History month!
  • (5/5)
    I’m so glad Steve Sheinkin left textbook writing to become a non-fiction book author. He seeks out the unknown. His writing is for upper elementary and middle school students but every adult I’ve shared his writing with have enjoyed the books. This book looks at black sailors during World War II who were court marshaled and convicted for insurrection because they refused to load ammunition with no training. It’s also a look at the early integration of the navy. As usual, Sheinkin’s writing reads like fiction, but his detailed documentation of sources prove it is non-fiction.
  • (5/5)
    Once again the multiple award-winning author Steve Sheinkin excels at reporting an important (but not widely known) moment in history in a format friendly to younger readers as well as to adults. In this case, the moment he records changed the course of race relations in the U.S.Port Chicago was a U.S. Navy base in the San Francisco Bay where, during World War II, black sailers were assigned to load bombs and ammunition into ships headed for American troops in the Pacific. All the officers were white, but all the men loading the bombs were black. In addition, the whites (who were not actually doing the work) received training in safe handling of warheads and incendiary bombs, but no such training was given to the blacks.At that time, the military, like most of the country, was very segregated; even the blood supply was separated by color. Black men in uniform were not treated any better for serving the country; in fact, in parts of the country, they were considered even more offensive for presuming that their uniforms entitled them to any sort of respect or equal treatment. One white corporal reported a scene in Louisiana in which his black soldiers could not get served a meal in a single restaurant during a train stop, but a group of German prisoners of war, also at the train station, could walk right in to the station lunchroom and get served. In another instance in Louisiana, a black soldier on a bus was ordered to get out of the white section, and he replied he would rather get off the bus. He did so, but the bus driver stopped the bus, got out, and shot the soldier to death. The driver was not prosecuted. Nor were any of the other whites in southern cities who attacked black soldiers; rather, it was the victims who got charged with assault. Repeated instances like this kept the future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall busy as he travelled around the country for the NAACP trying to help fight the “avalanche of abuses reported by African American soldiers and sailors.”At Port Chicago, the soldiers were pushed to load as many bombs as possible, with officers pitting one division against the other and placing bets on whose division could load the fastest. Safety was not a concern. On July 17, 1944, there was a huge explosion, killing 320 and injuring another 390. A Navy Board of Inquiry decided that the way the explosives were being handled had no impact on safety; rather, according to the official report and based on only the testimony of the white officers:"The consensus of opinion of the witnesses…is that the colored enlisted personnel are neither temperamentally nor intellectually capable of handling high explosives…” Following this incident, a large number of black sailors refused to load ammunition again. But after the commandant of the Twelfth Naval District threatened them with a firing squad, all but fifty reported for work. These fifty were put on trial for mutiny. Their defense team was good, and worked hard to show that there were no witnesses to the white officers’ allegations of a conspiracy; that the sailors were just afraid; and that the men had no interest in "usurping, subverting, or overriding superior military authority," a part of the Navy’s definition of mutiny. But ultimately, as Joe Small, one of the Fifty, realized after the trial (summarized by Sheinkin):"The defense lawyers were all naval officers - they weren’t going to bring out details that would be embarrassing to the Navy. And even if they’d wanted to, the judges wouldn’t have let them.”But the fact remained that many of the so-called mutineers were not capable of working with the munitions, and not for reasons of “mental inadequacy,” as came out at the trial. One sailor, who weighed just 104 pounds, said he was specifically told by a Navy doctor he wasn’t strong enough. Another suffered dizzy spells and also been declared unfit for loading. One still had a fractured wrist from the explosion. One mentioned that because the officers were racing for money, he was afraid another explosion would happen. Another testified that the prosecutor threatened that if he didn’t “come clean” about a conspiracy, he would be shot. (Thurgood Marshall released a statement charging that the prosecutor was prejudiced and that it was impossible for the sailors to get a fair trial.) And so on.It was all to no avail. All fifty men were found guilty of mutiny. (Decades after the trial, the defense attorney revealed that he had overhead Rear Admiral Hugh Osterhaus of the court say, while the trial was still in progress, “We’re going to find them guilty.”) All fifty sentences were identical: fifteen years of hard labor in prison, and a dishonorable discharge from the Navy. A few of the younger sailors had some years knocked off of the sentences. Thurgood Marshall didn’t give up, writing directly to the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, arguing about the absurdity of the court’s proceedings and findings. Behind the scenes, Navy lawyers agreed with Marshall.Meanwhile, the abuses of black soldiers both on and off bases continued. The Navy finally decided that segregation was actually hampering the war effort, and instituted gradual integration. But there was no diminution in the sentences of the Port Chicago men. In May 1945, Secretary Forrestal’s office told Admiral Wright the court had made a mistake and the judges needed to reconsider their decision. The judges, however, voted to uphold all fifty convictions and prison sentences, claiming:"The trials were conducted fairly and impartially.”After the war was over, the public wouldn’t let go of the case, and even Eleanor Roosevelt got involved. Forrestal would not admit the Navy made a mistake, but wanted to make the case go away. In January, 1946, he ordered the Port Chicago prisoners transferred to a Navy ship and returned to active duty for service at sea (not, however, changing their status from “convicted mutineers”).The Fifty had to deal with prejudice on the ship, and Joe Small was forced to duke it out with one Alabama boy, Alex, who eventually became his close friend. When Small later asked Alex what it was that caused him to change his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied:"I found out something. … A man is a man.”An Epilogue gives a brief recounting of Civil Rights advances following the events at Port Chicago, and extensive source notes. Throughout the text, there are many photos of both the people and documents described in the book.Evaluation: History doesn’t get much better or more readable than this. The author has done an outstanding job reporting an occurrence about which every American should be aware.
  • (5/5)
    Although they had been given no training on handling explosives, the sailors, all African Americans, at the Port Chicago naval base just north of San Francisco, had only one job: move 500-pound bombs from railroad freight cars, roll them down to the pier into a cargo net. The net would then be lifted by a motorized winch into the hold of a waiting cargo ship. Inside the hold the men would then stack up the bombs. "At the very top, they loaded the “hot cargo,” as the men called it—650-pound incendiary bombs. Unlike the other explosive stacked in the ship, these had their fuses already attached." "The men at Port Chicago described the scene on the loading pier as frantic, stressful, loud, chaotic—bombs rolling and clanking together, winch engines chugging and smoking, nets swinging through the air, sailors shouting and cursing, officers urging the men on." On July 17, 1944, at 10:18 p.m. the men of Division Four who had finished work at 3 in the afternoon, and turned the loading over to another shift, were startled out of sleep by a thunder clap. Then the sky lit up like daylight. Their worst nightmare had come true. The shock wave from the explosion blew the windows of their barracks apart. The incoming shards lacerated them. One man was blinded. Then the barracks began to collapse. In the morning they discovered that the loading pier had disintegrated. There was nothing left of the munitions train that was being unloaded, nothing left of one of the two liberty ships that was being loaded, and just the stern of the other one sticking out of the water. Also in the water were bits of clothing, bodies, and bits of bodies. 320 men had been killed in “one of the biggest man-made explosions in history to that point.”At first the survivors, including the 390 injured but not killed by the blast were treated by the Navy as heroes. They were the ones that put out the fires caused by the explosion, and had the grisly task of fishing the bodies and parts of bodies out of the water. But when the official inquiry began, racism surfaced. The testimony of witnesses, all white officers, was summarized as “colored enlisted personnel are neither temperamentally nor intellectually capable of handling high explosives…” The report also stated that “unsafe practices and speed were not permitted by anyone on authority.” This was the official report, in spite of the fact that these same officers had a betting pool on which Division could load the most in the shortest time. These same incapable enlisted seamen were then transferred to another California base to load ammunition. When, just a few weeks later, they balked at returning to loading ammunition on another ship they were charged with mutiny, and threatened with the death penalty.Sheinkin’s short, powerful, and well documented study of segregation and institutional racism is worthy of the accolades that it has received including the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Nonfiction and the 2015 Carter G. Woodson Book Award, as well as being a finalist for the National Book Award and the 2015 Young Adult Library Services Association Nonfiction Award Finalist.
  • (4/5)
    The Port Chicago Fifty tells the story of fifty Navy enlisted African American sailors who stood up for equality and safer working conditions during World War II. By opening this book with the attention-grabbing tale of Dorie Miller’s heroic deeds during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sheinkin sets the stage for the challenges the Port Chicago men would face. Miller worked as a mess attendant, saved several people and took down an enemy plane with no training, was awarded the Navy Cross, but then went back to being a mess attendant simply because he was African American. The Port Chicago Fifty expands upon the story of several of the African American servicemen, explaining their motivations and background within Port Chicago. Sheinkin clearly relates the unsafe working conditions that destroyed Port Chicago instantly killing several hundred people. Throughout this historical non-fiction book, readers share the patriotism, then anger at injustice faced by these extraordinary men. Sheinkin is a master storyteller and historian, weaving key quotes and primary source documents to relate a chapter of America’s history in an engrossing manner. Even through the uncertainties of collective memory and time lapsed, Sheinkin navigates different perspectives of key events to shed light on a lesser-known story of World War II while placing them in the broader context of what would become the Civil Rights Movement. The Port Chicago Fifty is highly recommended for ages twelve and up.
  • (4/5)
    The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve SheinkinThis true account tells of 50 African-American sailors who fought for their civil rights in 1944 – 1945.After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, a lot of men enlisted to help fight the enemy. African-Americans were among them. As the country was still divided racially, the military continued this policy. If a black man registered with the navy and was actually assigned to a ship, he could only work in labor areas, like the kitchen or laundry. Otherwise, he was sent to Port Chicago in California. Upon arriving, they received no training. Instead, they were told to stack bombs on ships, which was very dangerous. What they feared actually happened one day. Bombs exploded and over 300 were killed. There was little to nothing left of the ship. The black men said that they would no longer stack bombs because they were afraid. The Navy scared some into returning to their jobs, but 50 men said they would like to be re-assigned. They were put on trial. This is their story.This is a pretty interesting book although there is a bit of bias in the writing. It expresses opinion at times instead of sticking to only the facts. I like that this incident will not be forgotten—it’s something you should know about.
  • (5/5)
    Great non-fiction account of events that occurred during World War II. Follows the racism that existed in the Navy during this time and tragic events that led to mutiny charges being filed against fifty African American servicemen. This event led to changes in the way the military viewed the service of minorities and caught the attention of Thurgood Marshall. Were these men wrong to refuse to handle dangerous explosives after 320 of their group were killed in an accident? Why were only black sailors handling these dangerous weapons? Did they receive a fair trial from the military court? An interesting look into a questionable period of our history.
  • (3/5)
    Wow. I had heard references to this event but had never had anyone put it in context for me. While not as dynamic as Steve Sheinkin's Bomb he does an amazing job explaining the actions and behaviors that most likely led to the tragedy and how it affected the Navy's policy of segregation in World War II and illustrating how it pushed desegregation forward. It's an important event that everyone should learn about especially in light of the current tragedies in Ferguson and around the country. I think it might help put things in perspective of how many steps back we're taking right now.
  • (5/5)
    Long before the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the day Rosa Parks refused to change her seat on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama or other events associated with the Civil Rights movement, there was the men associated with Port Chicago. During WW II when all of our efforts should have been concentrated on fighting common enemies – the Axis powers in Europe and Japan – our country spent too much time and energy segregating black servicemen. In the Navy this resulted in a large number of these men who were tasked with loading ammunition into ships set for the Pacific. These men were never properly trained in the safe handling of these bombs, and when there was a tragedy that resulted in many lives lost, a small group of 50 simply refused to continue loading more bombs on more ships. What happened next is a national tragedy as they were accused and convicted of mutiny, something that haunted them for the rest of their lives. However, some good did come of it, as the armed forces were the first institutions to eliminate segregation, making it possible for the aforementioned events to eventually transpire. This was an interesting look back at an event in our history that many wish to be forgotten.
  • (5/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    This honestly didn't grab me, I think because a) meh, war stories, and b) I've read so many civil rights books that the surprising moments were (unfortunately) not at all surprising to me. That said, 7th-10th graders likely won't have that problem, and if they think a book about the appalling racism of the military sounds intriguing, this is an excellent one!