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The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story Of The Largest Mass Mutiny Trial In U. S. Naval History by Robert L. Allen. New York. 1989. Warner Books. hardcover. 192 pages. March 1989. 0446710040.

 

 

0446710040FROM THE PUBLISHER -

 

   In the fall of 1944, a young lawyer working for the NAACP went to California to defend 50 black seamen accused of mutiny. The attorney, later to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, was Thurgood Marshall. The men were black sailors - and heroes. They were the survivors of the worst domestic disaster of the war: the explosion at Port Chicago, California, that claimed 320 lives. Now the Navy branded these men as cowards and criminals. Was there really a mutiny at Port Chicago? What caused the terrifying explosions? Was racial prejudice behind the indictments? Who was ultimately responsible for the disaster.  and the shocking trial? This provocative account provides stunning answers to these questions and rewrites a vital chapter in American history with the pen of truth. In the summer of 1944, thousands of tons of ammunition were loaded onto Liberty ships at a tiny California port near San Francisco. All the seamen who actually handled the ammunition were black. All the officers were white. The seamen had been given technical training to serve at sea. None were instructed in the handling of ammunition. All were told the bombs couldn’t explode because they had been defused. But complaints about the dangerous conditions were made regularly to Navy higher-ups. The only response was a demand that increased tonnage be loaded in shorter and shorter times. One of the men who had complained was an intelligent, clean-cut black seaman from New Jersey named Joseph Small. He was a winch operator, a position for which he received no training and which required tremendous skill. He was off-duty and back at the barracks on the night of July 17, 1944. Two ships, the E.A. Bryan and the Quinalt Victory were being loaded by floodlight. Their cargo included 650-pound incendiary bombs/.  with the fuses already installed. It was particularly dangerous ‘hot cargo.’ Shortly after 10 p.m. an explosion blew Joseph Small out of bed, and the barracks collapsed around him. The small town of Port Chicago, a mile and a half from the docks, was nearly razed to the ground. The two ships and their docks simply vanished. The dead totaled 320, 202 of them black men. This single stunning disaster accounted for more than 15 percent of o black naval casualties during the war. A few weeks later, after denying the surviving black seamen the thirty-day leave granted to the white survivors, the Navy ordered them to return to work at a nearby port.  under the same unsafe conditions found at Port Chicago. Over two hundred black men refused to march to the docks. Fifty were singled out for court-martial.  on a charge of mutiny. Joseph Small was identified as their ringleader. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to death. And so began a trial called the Port Chicago Mutiny. Robert L. Allen’s stirring courtroom drama and portrayal of the disaster itself is based on actual trial documents, material recently declassified by the Navy, and interviews with key black seamen who have borne the injustice of the Port Chicago Mutiny for over forty years. Their own words, along with a colorful, intimate diary account written by Joseph Small, are moving testaments to the personal suffering of what Thurgood Marshall called ‘one of the worst frame-ups we have come across.’ The shame of Port Chicago aroused the passions of Eleanor Roosevelt and reporter Mary Lindsay and the grave concerns of Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal and F.D.R. himself. It is a story told now to acknowledge the sacrifice of all those brave men who died at Port Chicago and to remove the stigma of disgrace from fifty brave, decent black who deserve — even at this late hour - the nation’s admiration and the restoration of their good names.

 

 

Allen Robert L  ROBERT L. ALLEN, who holds a Ph.D. degree in sociology from the University of California, San Francisco, has both observed and actively participated in the civil rights and antiwar movements. For eleven years, he was an editor of The Black Scholar magazine. He also taught sociology and ethnic studies at San Jose State University and Mills College in Oakland and is the author of BLACK AWAKENING IN CAPITALIST AMERICA and RELUCTANT REFORMERS: RACISM AND AMERICAN SOCIAL REFORM MOVEMENTS.

 

 

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