July 19, 2017

After Obama punts, East Bay lawmakers continue pursuit of justice for Port Chicago 50

California Reps. Mark DeSaulnier, Barbara Lee introduce resolution for exoneration in U.S. House of Representatives.

Despite appeals from lawmakers, President Barack Obama left office without exonerating the African-American sailors convicted of mutiny during World War II following the deadly explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine.

With racial bias in policing and the criminal justice system in the national spotlight and the first African-American president in the Oval Office, supporters believed they had the best opportunity in years to secure justice for the sailors.

For the second time, Reps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, have introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives calling for the public exoneration of the Port Chicago 50.

“For 73 years the names of 50 brave sailors have been sullied by the racial discrimination they experienced during their service in World War II,” DeSaulnier said in a statement. “Given today’s political climate, there is no better moment in America to unite against discrimination and inequality.”

On July 17, 1944, two explosions at Port Chicago killed 320 men, including 202 African-American sailors who had the dangerous job of loading munitions onto cargo ships headed for the Pacific theater.

Although white officers were given 30 days leave after the accident, black enlisted men were not. When the sailors refused to resume loading bombs and ammunition under conditions they believed were unsafe, 50 of them were charged with mutiny.

Last year, DeSaulnier included a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Navy to determine if African-American sailors experienced racial bias at the Port Chicago naval munitions base during the war and report the findings to Congress. He has also called on the Smithsonian Institution to include information and artifacts related to the tragedy in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“It’s past time to honor them, not only for their pivotal role in the World War II homefront effort, but also for their unwavering commitment for justice,” Lee said in a statement. “I am grateful to Congressman DeSaulnier for his staying the course on this vitally important issue.”

To read this article as it originally appeared, click here.

By:  Lisa P White
Source: East Bay Times