Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Port Chicago 50 (The Fifty)

"Man it was awful," Jack Crittenden remembered. "You'd see a head floating across the water - just the head - or an arm."

For several days after the explosion, men with only minor injuries were given the task of clean up and body recovery. There were no living witnesses of the blast. No one who was on the boats or pier that night survived.

There is a great podcast of This American Life entitled 'The Job That Takes Over Your Life.' Listen to Act Three: The Port Chicago 50.

If you were a survivor of such a horrific night, would you return to work in the same unsafe conditions? 

Of the 328 surviving black enlistees, fifty men refused to return to work without a change in Navy procedures. Those fifty men were charged and convicted of mutiny. Mutiny, they were told, was punishable by death. It was the largest mutiny trial in the Navy's history.

From The History Channel:
"Six weeks of hearings followed in which the prosecution alleged that the men had “conspired each with the other to mutiny against the lawful authority of their superior naval officers.” The case caught the attention of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was then working as a legal counsel for the NAACP. Marshall sat in on the last few days of the proceedings, and later argued, “This is not 50 men on trial for mutiny. This is the Navy on trial for its whole vicious policy toward negroes.” But despite the protests of Marshall and others, it took only 80 minutes of deliberation for the court to find the 50 black sailors guilty. Each man was sentenced to between eight and 15 years hard labor and a dishonorable discharge from the Navy."

These chapters have been a fascinating and painful look into the birth of the civil rights movement. How would you compare the racism and segregation experienced by The Port Chicago 50 to racism and segregation today? What about institutionalized racism and segregation?

Also, what, in your opinion, constitutes a "mutiny"?

And… When is doing something wrong right?

Let's read these chapters: Treasure Island, Prosecution, Joe Small, The Verdict, and Hard Labor. Check back here on December 28th.

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