Representatives DeSaulnier and Lee Pass Effort to Exonerate the Port Chicago 50

September 23, 2021
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) successfully passed a measure that directs the Secretary of the United States Navy to publicly exonerate the Port Chicago 50. The effort was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 4350), which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 316-to-113. Passage of the effort comes seventy-seven years after the devastating explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Concord, California on July 17, 1944 that led to 50 sailors being unjustly convicted of mutiny.

“In order to achieve full racial justice in this country, we must reckon with the dark chapters of our past. I am proud of my work with Congresswoman Lee that has culminated in today’s passage of our measure to exonerate the Port Chicago 50, bring justice to these sailors, and restore the honor they so deserve to their service records,” said Congressman DeSaulnier. “I call on the Senate to pass this measure to right the historical wrong suffered in the wake of the Port Chicago disaster.”

 “The 50 African American sailors at Port Chicago who took a stand against discrimination should be remembered as heroes,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. “The Port Chicago tragedy is another painful reminder of how our nation must confront its history of systemic racism. I am proud to support this amendment to the FY22 NDAA to exonerate them.” 

“The Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial are most appreciative of the continual work by Congressman DeSaulnier to right some wrongs and have the Port Chicago 50 exonerated. The House's passage of this amendment is a necessary step toward dismantling racism. We congratulate Rep. DeSaulnier for his determined leadership. Congress recognizing the discrimination endured by the Port Chicago sailors who were treated so unfairly by the Navy is a vital message. We are hopeful the Senate will include this amendment in the final bill,” said Rev. Diana McDaniel, President of The Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial.

After experiencing segregation in the Navy, 435 African American munitions sailors, who were not properly trained or supported by the Navy, were killed or injured when a cargo vessel exploded as they were loading munitions. This incident accounted for more than 15 percent of all African American Naval casualties during WWII and was the deadliest home front disaster during the war. When 50 of these men understandably refused to return to the unsafe working conditions that killed their fellow sailors without additional supports or training, they were discriminately charged and convicted of mutiny, while white officers were given time off.

Since coming to Congress, Congressman DeSaulnier has been actively working to seek justice for the Port Chicago 50, including through previous amendments to the NDAA and in introducing a resolution to exonerate the sailors. Representatives DeSaulnier and Lee have also created a series of town halls called “Conversation on Race” to facilitate more understanding, healing, and progress to help us move forward as a nation.