Black History: Special Delivery!!
On July 17, 1944, an ammunition ship exploded while being loaded in Port Chicago, California during World War II. The blast killed 332 people and injured another 390. Approximately 2/3 of those killed were African American Sailors. Lack of adequate procedures and lack of training were seen as the primary causes of the explosion. At the time, Navy units assigned to the loading of munitions were typically segregated African American units. The men had not been trained in handling of munitions. Safety standards were also not properly adhered to due to the rush to keep pace with the loading schedules. On the evening of July 17, two merchant ships were in the process of being loaded with 4,600 tons of explosives, depth charges, and ammunition. There was also another 400 tons of explosives that were on rail cars that were nearby. A series of several explosions occurred at 10:18pm. The explosions were reportedly felt as far away as Nevada. Every single building in Port Chicago was damaged from the explosion.
Those who survived the blast were quickly reassigned to another location. Approximately one month later, hundreds of sailors refused to continue loading munitions due to the unsafe conditions. Of the 328 men in the battalion, 258 African American sailors refused to obey orders to load munitions because they feared for their safety. This brave act was known as the “Port Chicago Mutiny”. There were 50 men, known as the “Port Chicago 50” who were court martialed and convicted of mutiny and sentenced to prison.47 of the 50 were released in 1946. In 1994 a memorial was dedicated to those who lost their lives in the disaster. In 1999, President Clinton issued a pardon to Freedie Meeks of Los Angeles. He was of the few members of the Port Chicago 50 that were still alive. Meeks died in 2003. The Port Chicago Disaster lead to the implementation of safer procedures, and better training for those working with munitions in the Navy.