The Port Chicago 50: An Oral History
in our review of a national convention the story begins in the san francisco bay area a place called port chicago now called the concord naval weapons station or jakarta was a munitions depot during world war two it's not a very well known story although involving the worst stateside disaster of war or two at the time a lot of other things were happening allied forces were making major advances in europe and the pacific so what happened at port chicago got crowded out of the headlines but it would forever change the lives of fifty men on july seventeen nineteen forty four a massive explosion flattened the port chicago depot and shook the entire bay area some people thought it was an earthquake others feared an enemy attack it was neither the source of the blast was two liberty ships that were directed toward chicago one of the ships was fully loaded with ammunition
the other was in the process of being loaded they both exploded with the force of nuclear bombs that would be dropped on hiroshima and nagasaki a year later three hundred twenty men were killed three hundred ninety injured a majority of the casualties were african american sailors who had the job of loading ammunition ownership support chicago the navy was never able to determine the cause of the explosion but a navy court of inquiry indirectly blamed the black sailors the court concluded quote the colored enlisted personnel are neither temperamentally know intellectually capable of handling high explosives in quote shortly after the explosion the black munitions loaders who survived were transferred to a nearby base in ordered back to work shaken by the death of their work mates and afraid that another explosion might occur fifty men refused they were all court martialed convicted of mutiny and sentenced to up to fifteen years of hard labor when the war ended their senses was suspended as part of a general amnesty the man returned to civilian life and most tried to put
what happened at port chicago behind them there have been efforts to clear the names of the port chicago fifty all unsuccessful the first attempt was made in the fall of nineteen forty four by a young and italy c p attorney named thurgood marshall marshall argued that racism played a large part in the muni convictions all of the offices at port chicago and all seven members of the navy court martialed were white and they've he's made it a policy not to discuss the port chicago case except to say that it stands by a three page a statement released in january of nineteen ninety four that statement which followed a review of the case ordered by congress said quote racial discrimination did play a part in the assignment of african american sailors to load ammunition at port chicago and that african american sailors were subjected to segregated living and working conditions and quote however the navy refused to exonerate the sailors concluding that quote racial prejudice and discrimination played no part in the court martial convictions or senses and that there was nothing unfair or unjust and the final
outcome of any of the port chicago court martials and quote know the commanding officers at port chicago are alive today none of the members of the navy court martial are alive today the only living history of port chicago or the black salem's you're about to hear from five of them outward williams freddie meeks joseph small pursue robinson and robert routh they are all in their early to mid seventies and one of them pursue robinson is a little hard to understand at times because of throat surgery unrelated to the porch a couple incidents this is their story of what happened july seventeen nineteen forty four and what has happened since it was produced by dan collison higher higher higher higher higher higher higher they're up this rock out to bring this important
bulletin from the united press washington the white house announces japanese attack on pearl harbor they killed the wor corporate development which the rock out immediately has received pearl harbor took place and right after that maybe open up trisha branch to black for the first time we've done poverty monet were there we in the union and when the neighbor was young and then maybe one and it starts off of those low skilled thank you my name is robert groves i was seventeen years old and had just completed the eighth grade and i thought
this country a better place for their lives in the battle over land in the negro my uncle sam plays his own they are ms braly sales a shoe
so that when the state no ships so within the surface the idea because we were strangers train as citizens those trainers ago honestly the only super the great lakes the victim of waste that was able to go unpunished when think that the post above though phone companies and police we have been attacked in the moon docks and he was gonna disappointed the indices says oh don't they live in places that then because everyone who was only she went around in nomination issue too as the war in the pacific in greece portugal unable magazine became the largest on the west coast each day trains of high explosives arrived in the classification now is here in the
magazine area safety precautions were rigorously followed at all times knowing they may depend on the average to your own way was on the easier by animal and then when they see him low moans pieces would it will we sat there with an amish from day three of the rifle kind of it's all up to two thousand pound blockbuster recall them it worked you'd be down in the hole here comin big bombs and train coming down the correct weight the hbo my about some candidate to come down to face and they get together and they made a loud noise he's
wrong animals can be harder to get you know more than what they and so we use their skin and sometimes they didn't even endangered examination exclude they say oh no no we're about is saying is another lab sedano detonate has in them who is not trained elimination we would take and this would take a crowbar and we had to go so that would take a crawl one push an image that the pagoda delivery would not explode go to never detonated and when i got through it birds
you didn't have a lot of what people that saw that we all have basically one office and that he would reveal a perfect wife well you know the vials and hamlet's do won't do we just know more and to stand around it's you will bow as in cabo lord alienation it was prussia who has to live so much wanted to be good at night with that we estimate it was a rush rush and the division commanders push their losses pushed a man good but first a very good question so there might be more and the new organization the torah with the party that their division those protective suits or that
they get the lotteries week an ocean frequently the urgent need for an invasion force for the boatload two shots at the same time at the same pier so it was on the night of july seventeen nineteen forty four when our victory and the dna bryant or more that the naval magazine port chicago sixteen cards of ammunition and bombs were spotted on the pier beside the final victory of the sugary jell o brien had been loading day and night for more than three days three and a half million pounds of explosives were bored or waiting nearby on the pier everything was normal until time i think it was a monday a hot day and for some reason that day it was kind of up for a day that i felt
grateful boarding them on a mohawk writer susan rice points ahead the pimples you know i'm still being a teenager to live there weren't going to try to muscle a problem put on mars singer and get back to my locker put my ear away semitism lipa i have the top rack up a rack and here comes the voice of income system again lights out quiet about the back amanda maia memory of the sky and that time his due respect the sky lit up a suspect the sun rose in spite and field tilts prozac shortly after that he had come to second explosion filling the sky with all kinds of our lives and calls light of the fourth of july
celebration that's right liane it was explosions all hell broke loose of just a lot of confusion because glass was a room where men were in august than feared and some and ran all of them are busy doing shorts as bedlam they knew the people screaming and yelling of the various scandal so i myself scuffle are a lot of notes and when they were no oil explosion in my craw about and then i noticed that i didn't could see clearly an island that's when i first realized him that i was
her and i called him a body him off come again and david is that they didn't some of us how the survey is that there's been blown up yes it is the left eye was less rain so badly that that was removed that night and then right i was less rigid and show a couple let me ride it eventually a loss of sight and that that was the beginning of him and called me the online portion then the pacific war ships cruisers and destroyers shall long island on sunday for the second straight day
that on the thing and presumed dead more injured as a result of last night's explosion to an internship the port chicago a number of san francisco but in a general electorate that you do know same table elbow did you know that as we would like election might've garbanzo old fight in the plane was exploding wonderfulness if you know they looked like a plane come out in just his bomb but praise in a waterfront parks and administration area buildings crumbled my carport roof blown off wall's gone another study of the loading fears total destruction of ship's broken pushed the hawks that was a second thing see those ships drop in and say and that was standing watch or war loom so good money is i understand what you'll get there one minute and you can feel
warm full moon looks meantime the court of inquiry was collecting testimony hundreds of expert in all fields were called him to study the area the cause of the explosion could not be fixed with certainty but it was suspected that they didn't charge was accidentally detonated i new lows we were what we were expecting at all time we worked with that in mind and one day this stuff we felt like is we was getting the road be a week only was the one that was doing it didn't work and he was a wonderfully contamination so was shooting we have of the labs and to get away to get a new soul but they didn't happen it was really all
week we will have to look i asked you was packed stop these past cases two men swoop mind the part of the parents who are but they say for march i was motionless archived recording move move who lives where they live lives in the coolness and now i'm going to have to attend to a cartoon when he said calmly if everybody stopped because columnist nick promoting immigration it was
all the major would you know demolition list of a weird head trauma services i am absolutely afraid which are were afraid to elimination east it will work any call another one unless they get killed in a second the same thing he's deported and when is this about us he chose to say well one day i wanted to a year that you could be charged with mutiny if you don't like the word and he explained that time if we really futile but were it could have a shot there was a queue when he saved you could be shot the end of fellow who went the moment you know a lot of people are they free a
bit better why did you do this what to do about the plan to answer the mississippi so i believe that the only chance to shoot very intense as you are within three of pills this certainly wasn't global back to wake a real goal get shot we do say the shooters nicole was ennobled back in the little laminated those who were arrested though a serious pickle will ship to loathing for yellen was that study and was founded in michoacan we didn't commit no mutiny we didn't take all would know she'd we didn't take a while bass we had no weapons we didn't have a piano
we only refuse to go back to worry that could then be mutiny and international community i just knew that i didn't want to work on the same conditions that i did work for an adventure a chance of the same thing happening again wellman units that this year there is a good as like a plane it is scott and that we all signal with your own viral says no we hear me when love to say entangled with him but they went as close they were called one by one i've been tested for an paul morrison same story maybe his wife always put addresses is too weak goal as evelyn the same thing i told what the end up going out on about that i was approved and that was it even know were little
happening in one and what would happen with the ball hair was shot the war put it this way and my mother would cook or six alec is in the room together mom and eight we all it did something we know we can be punished as their history with them no i would just say he wanted his work with the right of all somebody do it will the real question was killed the group used to use charge and we just have to try when ocean jewish prophet those centers in that they was the years i hate to india's in some gray is sixteen oh
oh a lettuce well you know i'm a crime on an idea for that in principle a bird has seemed like there was some kind of call my opinion at the dragon of his signature of the few tv news you see what was going down seven pm eastern wartime barco reporting the japanese have accepted our firms fully that's the word we just sleep of the white house in washington this ladies and gentlemen is the end of the second world war the united nations on the land on the sea in the air under the four quarters of the earth are united and are victorious would only emit at it as suspended those centers it reduces it get really good at is just my discharge from the navy preventing you from receiving jobs that would have received as a brand in the
provision incapable of following orders i use it couldn't talk about it because it would worry he was great in sat you did more chu for years to know the jews in this in a new wave band charlie newt mean you get more people to think the chew are you know even like your country has something new to do something like there stone this country we knew about burning wood to furlough work without him to open a life insurance or were calibrated a clean thing about it that i get out of the field and then you know in just about to report and eight you know it can really destroy a question
i could've done a brother followed lived and he i wouldn't i would know abusive know what otis clay's early didn't talk about kale pm days i think are going to get better we can favorably because you know you will be close games do have a flower it we still in a big hole we knew then we deny them in new light i think he's right saints
fishing it is in us and they have a democracy is it democracy without apologizing for sale
- Producing Organization
- On the Job Productions, Inc.
- WBEZ (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
- Contributing Organization
- The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
- AAPB ID
- Program Description
- The Port Chicago 50: An Oral History is the story of how the lives of 50 men were forever changed by the act of stubborn defiance. On July 17th, 1944, two 'Liberty' ships anchored at the Port Chicago Munitions Base near San Francisco exploded killing 320 men and injuring 390. 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 at Port Chicago. Shortly after the explosion, the black munitions loaders 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 Navy history, they were all convicted of mutiny and sentenced to up to 15 years of hard labor. When the war ended, their sentences were suspended as part of a general amnesty and the men returned to civilian life. Angry, ashamed, afraid they would be fired from their jobs or talk about the case, even to family members, for 50 years. Ironically, the Port Chicago work stoppage and mutiny trial led to the desegregation of the Navy. The Port Chicago 50: An Oral History is a half-hour radio documentary narrated by five survivors of the Port Chicago explosion. Three of the narrators were convicted of mutiny. All in their 70's, they are still trying to get their names cleared.--1995 Peabody Awards entry form.
- Broadcast Date
- Asset type
- Media type
Producer: Collison, Dan
Producing Organization: On the Job Productions, Inc.
Producing Organization: WBEZ (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the
University of Georgia
Identifier: cpb-aacip-3ca9cf45f65 (Filename)
Format: 1/4 inch audio cassette
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- Chicago: “The Port Chicago 50: An Oral History,” 1995-06-30, The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 25, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-057cr5pf14.
- MLA: “The Port Chicago 50: An Oral History.” 1995-06-30. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 25, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-057cr5pf14>.
- APA: The Port Chicago 50: An Oral History. Boston, MA: The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-526-057cr5pf14