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The Port Chicago Mutiny


Nice short piece on the Port Chicago Mutiny:

On July 17, 1944, two ships, S.S. Quinault Victory and S.S. E.A. Bryan were docked on the same pier when an explosion obliterated them both, along with 4,600 tons of ammunition, instantly killing 320 men and wounding hundreds more. The explosion was felt 30 miles away in San Francisco and registered a 3.4 on the Richter scale, leading to the highest number of deaths on U.S. soil during World War II (Hawaii did not become a U.S. state until 1959).  

After the explosion, the Black sailors were given the order to return to duty while the white officers were granted leave to recuperate from the tragic incident. Fearing the return to an unsafe work environment, over 250 sailors refused their orders, only to be threatened by white officers that failure to obey orders was punishable by death. To many Black sailors who grew up in the Jim Crow era, a white man threatening to kill them provided a compelling reason to obey, even at the risk of one鈥檚 own safety. 

Over 200 sailors returned to work, but 50 of them refused to work and insisted that they be provided with a safe working environment. These 50 sailors were immediately imprisoned and charged as mutineers and found guilty, in what became the biggest mutiny in U.S. Naval history. The sailors were dishonorably discharged and sentenced to 8-15 years in prison. One sailor, Freddie Meeks, was later pardoned by President Clinton, but 49 others took their last breath while still branded as mutineers. 

One might imagine that segregation of Black sailors from direct combat duty would make them safer, but as the piece lays out this falls apart when confronted with the logics of industrial segregation.

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