Seventy-five years ago, today, on July 17th, 1944, two Liberty ships anchored at the Port Chicago Munitions Case near San Francisco, exploded. 390 men were injured. 320 men died. It was the worst homefront disaster of World War II.
A majority of the casualties were African-American sailors who loaded ammunition onto the ships. Shortly after the explosion, those who survived were transferred to a nearby base and ordered back to work. Shaken by the death of their workmates and afraid that another explosion might occur, 50 men refused. In the largest court-martial in U.S. Navy history, they were all convicted of mutiny and sentenced to up to 15 years of hard labor. But a few months after the war ended, all of those sentences were suspended as part of a general amnesty.
While these men were allowed to return to civilian life, they were left angry, ashamed, and afraid they would be fired from their jobs or worried that they would be seen as unpatriotic. As a result, some did not discuss the case, even with family members, for some 50 years. This is “The Port Chicago 50: An Oral History” from Long Haul Productions.
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