Wednesday Marks the 75th Anniversary of Port Chicago Disaster

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Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of the Port Chicago disaster, which killed 320 sailors and civilians in Contra Costa County in the deadliest disaster on the home front during World War II.

On July 17, 1944, an explosion occurred when sailors were loading ammunition and bombs onto ships at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine. The majority of the dead were African American sailors serving in the racially segregated military.

According to a news release from the office of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, the aftermath led to the largest naval mutiny in U.S. history.

More than 250 African American sailors refused to return to work after the disaster. About 200 of them were sentenced to bad conduct discharges, but 50 were tried and convicted for mutiny and were sentenced to 15 years in prison. All 50 were granted clemency two years later.

According to Lee's office, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act last week sponsored by Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and co-sponsored by Lee calling on the Secretary of the Navy to fully exonerate the Port Chicago 50 of their convictions.

"The 50 African American sailors who stood against discrimination and refused to return to dangerous working conditions at Port Chicago should be remembered as heroes," Lee said.

DeSaulnier said the amendment was an effort to do right by the families of the Port Chicago 50, as well as the African American community.

"There is no better moment in America to unite against discrimination," DeSaulnier said. "We cannot truly move forward until we correct the mistakes of our past and root out racism in all forms."

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