Senator Boxer Introduces Port Chicago Bill
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
The historic Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial is located at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in Contra Costa County. It represents a significant time in our nation’s history, and I am working to make sure that it is both recognized and preserved.
Port Chicago was the site of a major disaster on the night of July 17, 1944, when an explosion rocked the Port Chicago Naval Magazine, an ammunition storage facility where ships were loaded with bombs, shells, mines, and other explosive devices to be used in World War II. Nearly five thousand tons of ammunition exploded, killing 320 service members, most of whom were African American, wounding hundreds more and destroying the surrounding town of Port Chicago.
Shortly after the explosion, those stationed at Port Chicago were ordered to resume work at a new site a few miles away. The reaction was strong. The enlisted personnel refused, citing the unsafe conditions that had caused the earlier explosion. The Navy arrested hundreds of sailors on various charges, and 50 men were charged with mutiny. All were African American, and all were convicted on the charges.
Thurgood Marshall took up the case of the Port Chicago 50, suing the Navy on their behalf. Ultimately, although he could not get the conviction overturned, he did win clemency for them. In investigations, no cause was ever determined for the explosion and fires, in part because so much damage was done to the area. One survivor sought and ultimately received a pardon from President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Port Chicago serves as a stark reminder of both the sacrifice of the brave service members who served there and of the painful legacy of a segregated military. In 1992, Congress authorized the creation of a National Memorial at Port Chicago. My bill would designate the Memorial as a unit of the National Park System and authorize the Interior Department to work with the City of Concord and the East Bay Regional Park District to operate a visitors center.
As we strive to create a more perfect nation, it is important that we learn from the past. I hope that my legislation will take us a step closer to that noble goal.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer