Port Chicago Survivors Support Committee

In 1998, the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center founded the Port Chicago Survivors Support Committee to spearhead a nationwide campaign on behalf of black World War II veterans charged with mutiny in 1944. The campaign began with a nationwide search for the black survivors of the nation's worst domestic military disaster during World War II. A write-in campaign urged President Clinton to expunge the charges of mutiny from the records of the black sailors who survived the tragedy. More than 62,000 Americans supported the campaign with letters to the President.

July 17, 1999: The BHERC honored the Port Chicago Survivors on the 55th anniversary of the disaster. "A Day to Remember" ceremonies were held at the site of a memorial monument and at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in the Bay Area, the final resting-place for many of those killed in the tragedy. "It was very emotional," said Evers-Manly. "The men had an opportunity to share their memories of the split second in time that changed all their lives forever."

February 22, 1998: The BHERC sponsored "Remembering the Men of Port Chicago," the largest reunion of survivors of the tragedy, and honored them during Black History Month in Los Angeles. The men were also flown to Sacramento were they were honored by Assemblyman Roderick Wright, 48th District, and other legislators. Wright's resolution calling for the President to pardon the Port Chicago Survivors passed unanimously. Wright, Congressmen George Miller and Pete Stark, and former Congressman Ron Dellums worked closely with BHERC in the historic campaign for justice for the Port Chicago Survivors.

July 17, 1944: At 10:20 p.m. two devastating explosions killed and injured more than 700 U.S. Navy personnel as munitions were loaded on Liberty Ships at the Port Chicago Naval Weapons Station, near San Francisco. Of the 320 fatalities, 202 were African-American seamen, 15 percent of all black servicemen killed during all of World War II. Weeks after the tragedy, 258 black sailors were ordered to return to the dangerous duty, though white servicemen were given leaves after the tragedy. The black sailors refused to load munitions under unsafe conditions and were arrested and charged with mutiny. Threatened with the death penalty, 208 sailors returned to the high-risk duty - reserved for "blacks only" - and the remaining 50 were court-martialed and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

"During World War II, black seamen stationed at Port Chicago were assigned to menial work and, though not trained for the duty, the loading of munitions on Liberty Ships under extremely unsafe working conditions," according to Sandra Evers-Manly. While noted NAACP legal counsel Thurgood Marshall was instrumental in the release of the black sailors from prison, he failed to have the mutiny convictions removed from their military records.

The Port Chicago Survivors Support Committee's campaign for justice generated keen interest from the television and film industries, resulting in the production of two television documentaries on the disaster and survivors. "Mutiny," a motion picture produced by award-winning actor Morgan Freeman's Revelation Entertainment, aired March 28, 1999, on NBC-TV.

On February 22, 1998, the BHERC honored Robert Allen, author of "The Port Chicago Mutiny," during the "Remembering the Men of Port Chicago" event, hosted by the Center. Allen was presented the Joseph Small Legacy Award, named after Port Chicago Survivor Joseph R. Small, Jr., who helped Allen write the first chapter of his insightful book. Small died November 3, 1996.

For more detailed information call (323) 957-4747; write BHERC at 1875 Century Park
East, Suite 600, Los Angeles, CA

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