Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award

The Port Chicago 50

on September 3, 2015
On July 17, 1944, in the midst of World War II, there was a major explosion at Port Chicago in California. Over 300 servicemen were killed and countless more were injured. It was in this port that hundreds of black servicemen were ordered, day after day, to load ammunition onto ships despite the fact that they were never trained how to properly handle such dangerous cargo. The men handling this cargo knew it was only a matter of time before an accident occurred. This deadly accident triggered a series of events that no one anticipated. On August 9, 1944, the servicemen of Port Chicago were ordered to resume loading ammunition. Joe Small, one of the black servicemen, simply would not continue to load ammunition. He was scared of what might happen and he believed the black servicemen were being singled out for this dangerous job. Others followed Joe’s lead and would not load ammunition. This group was charged with mutiny and faced a death sentence if found guilty. The Port Chicago 50 provides a riveting account of the events leading up to and following the explosion and sheds light on this little known tragedy and the trial that ensued. He reveals the layers of racism and prejudice facing black Americans in the armed forces and in daily life in the United States. This is a compelling read about a little known, but very significant event in United States history.

25 Responses to “The Port Chicago 50”

  1. axel_vitsal says:

    I loved this book, along with all Steven Sheinken books. For Steven Sheinken readers, I recommend Bomb and The Notorious Benedict Arnold.

  2. 6silver says:

    This was a great book! I loved the he didn’t make it from just one persons point of view!

  3. barre swish 05 says:

    its pretty cool that they list 50 people at port chicago

  4. glades05 says:

    This was a good book. I love how the author added the 50 sailors that took part in it.

  5. barre swish 05 says:

    pretty cool book so far. lots of history

  6. Aiden machia says:

    I like reading this book because I like military book

  7. Andrew best says:

    I really want these sailors from this event to be pardoned. I wrote a letter to President Obama telling him I think they are heroes who worked for justice.If you agree with me, please send a letter, too. My letter is below this message.

    Hon. Barack Obama
    President of the United States of America
    The White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    Washington, D.C. 20500

    December 9, 2015

    Dear Mr. President:

    My name is Andrew Best. I am a 4th grader in Vermont who read the DCF book Port Chicago 50. I think you should pardon these 50 black sailors from the sentence of mutiny put on them in World War II. They are not guilty; they fought for justice. The reason they didn’t load ammunition was because they wanted to be safe. Our country gave black sailors the most horrible, dangerous jobs! This is important to me because I couldn’t stand the idea of one of my ancestors being accused of mutiny for no good reason.
    Andrew Best

  8. ConnorVTRULES says:

    I think this book shows how racism was back then. They were doing the right thing by fighting for their rights by not moving those bombs. They were not going to be treated like slaves. I feel that is right and they should not been charged mutiny for doing that.

  9. dylan says:

    It looks like a good book. What is the main idea?

  10. Andrew best says:

    Does anyone know if the black men who were tried were ever “cleared,” meaning that they were no longer found guilty? Did our US government ever recognize those men as heroes for standing up for equal rights within the Navy?

  11. andrewvt says:

    maxman, why didn’t you like this book? In my opinion, this was one of the greatest books I have ever read. Mostly because I liked how that incident, affected segragational laws in the navy.

  12. andrewvt says:

    To Averyvt.I thought they were using a lot of segrigation because the commanders and officers at port Chicago, did not explain what was going on in a situation like that. Averyvt, I meant it was the wrong like: “you should not have done that!” I meant that kind of wrong.

  13. Soccer crazy EO says:

    Yea your right i don’t like the bomb loading part and just because of that all the drama starts

  14. pmanbballPW says:

    I couldn’t really under stand the story because it switched from points of view. It was always switching and it got very confusing. Really all I got out of it was that there was an explosion and killed a lot of people. I also didn’t understand why no whites were working the docks with the blacks.

  15. Soccer crazy EO says:

    I don’t like how the blacks are treated its not fair!!!

  16. AveryVT says:

    To andrewvt again: Why are you so disappointed about the bomb loading issue? I know that it was unfair and wrong that they didn’t know about the dye in the caps, but what do you think was so wrong about that situation? I understand that it was bad and wrong about them not knowing about the dye and thinking that the bomb was activating. I also understand about the segregation in the navy at the time and how blacks couldn’t get to be sailors or get higher ranks.

  17. Andrewvt says:

    I am very disappointed on how the work conditions at port Chicago, affected the black men when they were loading ammunition. For example, when one of the black workers dropped a bomb, red dye sprayed out, and all the workers thought it was going to blow up. But later they figured out that there are pressurized capsules in the noses of bombs, and whenever there is pressure against it,dye comes out. Different colors for different ships.

  18. AveryVT says:

    To andrewvt. I agree with you that the blacks were segregated and that it was unfair that they had to wait 2 hours and they didn’t even get inspected. I thought that it was good for the guy to get an award for shooting the airplane down but frustrating to just go back to being a mess attendant. At least he got and award.

  19. AveryVT says:

    I liked how the black man on board the USS West Virginia shot down the Zero(Japanese plane)at Pearl Harbor. I think that it was good that a white sailor reported his success and bravery instead of just ignoring it. I thought that it was totally unfair that the blacks had to do the dangerous bomb loading while the whites just sat around and supervised them. Either the whites should have loaded bombs with the blacks(the working conditions would have improved with the whites coming)or blacks could have been sailors. It must have been one of the best moments in their dangerous lives to become a sailor and go out on the water.

  20. AveryVT says:

    I think that this book was interesting and had a lot of detail, but it could get boring at some parts. I liked how America stood up for the Port Chicago Fifty men that got sent to prison. I think that the men who stood up for their own rights were very brave. I think that they wanted to have more rights in the navy and that they were scared, very scared. I really liked this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good book.

  21. andrewvt says:

    I don’t really like that blacks are being segregated in this book because at one of the places they were being trained, the blacks waited 2 hours for the inspector to come, but when he did come he only went to the to the whites, and then left.

  22. andrewvt says:

    I think this is a interesting book so far, I really liked how they told me about a black hero aboard the West Virginia, a ship that got attacked by Japanese in Pearl Harbor. Another thing I thought was kind of weird was that when he received the medal of honor for showing bravery, he still was just a mess attendant for white sailors.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I think this book is very interesting so far, I liked how they put information on one of the black heroes aboard The West Virginia, but I thought it was kind of weird when after he showed bravery against the Japanese,and after he got the medal of honor, he still went back to being a mess attendant.

  24. maxman says:

    I thought this book was very good – talking about segregation in the navy. But it didn’t intrigue me enough to finish it. I found it reminded me of last years DCF book “JFK the president has been shot” which I did not think was very interesting ether.

  25. Corndogio says:

    i love it

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