Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Americans streamed to their local recruiting offices to enlist in the military, and the African-American community was no exception. Like everyone else, young blacks were willing and eager to serve and defend their country. Unfortunately in the 1940s, segregation was the rule of law in all branches of the military. African-Americans could enlist, but were kept separate from their white counterparts, denied the ability to become officers and were only given non-combat jobs like cooking and laundry.
For the hundreds of African-American sailors who served in Port Chicago, California, however, their job proved to be much worse, and far deadlier. Assigned the task of loading thousands of live bombs onto cargo ships, the sailors lived in constant dread of accidents. When they began to voice their concerns, naval officers assured them that the bombs were perfectly safe to handle; but despite their confident talk, neither the officers nor the sailors had been given proper safety training. If they had, the disaster that occurred on July 17, 1944 might never have happened.
Not learning from their mistakes, or even accepting responsibility, the Navy refused to change their procedures and ordered the surviving sailors of Port Chicago back to loading bombs.
The African-American sailors found themselves confronted with a choice: should they follow orders and continue to work in unsafe conditions, or refuse to obey until the Navy made changes?
Find out what the sailors chose to do, and the consequences of their choice, by reading The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin.