As part of their ongoing effort to bring attention to the injustice suffered by the Port Chicago 50, Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) introduced House Resolution (H. Res. 616) calling for the public exoneration of the African American sailors who were wrongfully convicted following the deadliest home front disaster of World War II at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in California.
The resolution is co-sponsored by several Members of Democratic Leadership, and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), and has won the endorsement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
After experiencing segregation in the Navy, 435 African American munitions sailors, who were not properly trained or supported, were killed when a cargo vessel exploded.
This incident accounted for more than 15 percent of all African American Naval casualties during WWII.
When 50 of these men understandably refused to return to the unsafe working conditions that killed their fellow sailors, they were discriminately charged and convicted of mutiny.
“The Port Chicago 50 were devoted patriots who served their country and played an essential role in the World War II home front effort,” said Lee.
“As the daughter of a veteran, I commend the 258 African-American sailors who refused to return to work until working conditions were safe and proper training was in place,” she said.
“Sadly, due to their act of bravery in the face of discrimination, 50 were tried and convicted of mutiny. Instead of hard labor sentences and dishonorable discharges, these brave sailors should be recognized for their courage. It’s past time to exonerate and honor these patriotic Americans for their bold stance for justice, the courage of their convictions and their tremendous service to our nation.”
Representative Mark DeSaulnier said, “The Port Chicago 50 were called upon to fight for our country, but ended up fighting for their own lives. It is long past time to recognize this injustice and to set the record straight.”
In a letter to Members of Congress, Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior VP for Policy and Advocacy, said, “our nation’s oldest, largest and most widely-recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization supports H.Res. 616 and the exoneration of the Port Chicago 50. In these days of increased racial and ethnic bigotry on the national stage, it is clear that steps must be taken to demonstrate that lessons have been learned from the past. A complete exoneration would be a step in the right direction.”
The resolution has the support of more than 70 Members of the House of Representatives.
Last summer, Representatives DeSaulnier and Lee, along with Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent a letter to President Obama asking him to do everything in his power to acknowledge the injustice suffered by these sailors and remove these racially biased convictions from their records.
California Senators Boxer and Feinstein followed sent a similar letter.