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Democracy Awards

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier

Representing the 11th District of California

On Anniversary of the Port Chicago Tragedy, Representatives DeSaulnier and Lee Continue Effort to Exonerate Port Chicago 50

July 17, 2017
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, on the 73rd anniversary of the Port Chicago tragedy, Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) introduced a House Resolution calling for the public exoneration of the Port Chicago 50. The resolution is part of their ongoing effort to bring attention to the injustice suffered by the Port Chicago 50, a group of African American sailors who were wrongly charged with mutiny following the deadliest home front disaster of World War II at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in California.

After experiencing segregation in the Navy, 435 African American munitions sailors, who were not properly trained or supported, were killed or injured when a cargo vessel exploded. This incident accounted for more than 15 percent of all African American Naval casualties during WWII. When 50 of these men understandably refused to return to the unsafe working conditions that killed their fellow sailors, they were discriminately charged and convicted of mutiny.

“For seventy-three years the names of 50 brave sailors have been sullied by the racial discrimination they experienced during their service in World War II,” said Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. “Given today’s political climate, there is no better moment in America to unite against discrimination and inequality. While we cannot erase the memories of the past, we can express our gratitude for the Port Chicago 50 and ultimately set the record straight through exoneration. An important step in healing our country is recognizing and correcting our past mistakes.”

“As the daughter of a veteran, I wholeheartedly appreciate the sacrifice made by the men and women who bravely serve to protect our freedom. That is why we must exonerate the 50 African-American sailors, who boldly stood against discrimination and refused to return to unsafe work conditions,” said Congresswoman Lee. “It’s past time to honor them, not only for their pivotal role in the World War II home front effort, but also for their unwavering commitment for justice. I am grateful to Congressman DeSaulnier for his staying the course on this vitally important issue.”

Representatives DeSaulnier and Lee first introduced this resolution last Congress, and jointly sent a letter to former President Obama requesting he acknowledge the injustice suffered by these sailors and remove these racially biased convictions from their records.

Additionally, Congressman DeSaulnier successfully included a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which required the Navy to investigate the circumstances surrounding the treatment of sailors at Port Chicago. DeSaulnier has also called upon the Smithsonian Institution to include information about the Port Chicago 50 in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture.