Black Sailors Among Those Remembered at 75th Anniversary of Port Chicago Blast

A deadly explosion near Concord and a subsequent mutiny trial at Naval Station Treasure Island 75 years ago will be remembered Saturday afternoon at the Treasure Island Museum.

The Port Chicago explosion on July 17, 1944, killed 320 people, 202 of whom were young black sailors ordered to load and unload explosives with no training and inadequate equipment.

The explosion and the subsequent mutiny trial helped lead the way to desegregation of U.S. armed forces and was also an early step for Thurgood Marshall, then chief counsel for the NAACP, toward becoming one of the most respected Supreme Court Justices in U.S. history, organizers said.

"They were the precursor to the desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces. At the time, it did not seem that their work meant anything, but through their courage that we were able as a nation to see the situation at Port Chicago was a cause to desegregate," said Dr. Mary J Wardell, Vice Provost at the University of San Francisco.

In recognition of Black History Month, the Treasure Island Museum will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the disaster and trial on Saturday by presenting a special program titled "Lighting the Fuse to Civil Rights: The Port Chicago Trial at Treasure Island."

"The Port Chicago story is another one of those threads in history that’s starts back in 1944 but continues into the concerns of the future with Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick," said Treasure Island Museum President Walt Bilofsky.

Saturday's event is free and open to the public, and will be held from 1 to 4:30 p.m. in Building One at Treasure Island. Reservations are suggested.

An exhibition on Port Chicago will be on view in the Building One lobby on Treasure Island through July 9, presented by the S.F. Public Library and the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial.

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