In case you never heard the story, which most of us haven’t, in northern California right off the Sacramento river the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial is five acres of land set aside to receive a National Park designation for the lives that were lost there.
On July 17, 1944, out of 320 navy sailors, 202 were black and were killed as they loaded munitions for a naval boat during World War II. According to the report in USA Today, they were ordered to “work as cargo handlers, loading explosives, incendiary bombs, depth charges and ammunition onto ships for delivery to the war in the Pacific.” Naval record shows that they had no training in handling munitions.
On that day, the entire area lit up like a roman candle igniting 5,000 tons of munitions in seconds. These sailors were not qualified and during the time of a segregated military they were not going to be given the proper hazard training that this assignment required.
They were expendable and munitions were just the place for them. But, what they thought would be a few dead negroes dropping incidental weaponry resulted in the worst home-front disaster of World War II’s history. The incident leveled buildings, took out the entire pier and crumpled rail cars like aluminum foil.
What happened after the explosion may have been paramount to what happened during the explosion. The incident proved that there was no lesson learned in the devastation. Over 300 African American navy men were ordered to resume loading munitions by August 9, while their white counterparts were given 30 days to recover from the incident. Almost 260 refused and were court martialed and given 8 – 15 years hard labor while others were given a dishonorable discharge.
Read more here on the horrible incident that President Obama is trying to honorably acknowledge. This incident was a major factor in the inception of the Civil Rights Movement.