Tag Archives: WW II

Port Chicago & the war on Civil Rights

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin     Audio read by Dominic Hoffman
Published by Roaring Book Press                     Published by Listening Library

PortChicago

Narrative nonfiction master Steve Sheinkin does it again with The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights. During World War II, African-Americans who signed up for the Navy were either assigned to mess duty or were given the jobs no one else would do. In Port Chicago, west of San Francisco and off of San Pablo Bay, African-Americans sailors were given the job of loading munitions onto ships. The sailors were not adequately trained and their supervising officers pushed them to load the munitions as fast as possible because of bets made on the side. The combination was a setup for disaster. On July 17, 1944 an explosion killing over 300 men incited the remaining African-American sailors to take a stand against loading munitions under these conditions. This is their story.

Mr. Sheinkin expertly weaves the Port Chicago 50 story with the bigger story – the battle of African-Americans to serve their country as equals, the battle of Civil Rights. Readers are hooked from the first sentence “[h]e was gathering dirty laundry when the bombs started falling” to the Source Notes where we learn that Mr. Sheinkin used the “Freedom of Information Act” to get access to the transcripts from the court proceedings. We are stunned when the explosion occurs, we cheer when the sailors refuse to go “column left”, and we anxiously await for the verdict to come down. In addition to the text of this remarkable story, numerous photographs are included which provide a more complete view of the events.

The audio version of The Port Chicago 50 is fantastic as well and had my teenage daughter caught up in the story – hook, line and sinker. As a result, she is doing her 20th Century project on “The Port Chicago 50”. Thank you Mr. Sheinkin for bringing us this amazing story!