The Port Chicago Mutiny

THE PORT CHICAGO MUTINY: The story of the largest mass mutiny trail in U.S. naval history

A Counter Racist Book Review
by Josh Wickett

Author: Robert L. Allen

Publisher: Amistad Press, inc 1993. 175 pgs.

On July 17th 1944 a massive explosion destroyed two cargo ships and killed 320 U.S. sailors at a naval depot near San Francisco bay. Port Chicago was the facility where ammunition of all types was loaded on to ships for transport to front line positions. All of the loaders were Black males, all of the supervisors and officers were White men. You can imagine how stressful this work was. Not only was it physically demanding, but the tension from trying to move bombs without dropping them must have had everyone on edge.

Something happened on that July 17th, what it was will probably never be known. The explosion was so massive that it destroyed 2 ships, wrecked the base, and damaged the town located over a mile away.  The men were ordered back to work loading ammunition, but a large number refused citing safety concerns, poor training and racism. The men were threatened with court martial and told of the severe penalties they faced. Most of the Black sailors went back to work loading ammunition but 50 refused to do so. This book is the story of what happened to them.

As you, read this book you need to understand that this is a true story that involve real Black people who recognized their mistreatment and took a very courageous stand by publicly protesting it. These 50 Black males were risking execution by firing squad for disobeying direct orders. What on earth would cause a Black male to look a White man in the eye and tell him the truth?

Conditions for the Black males in the military had never been good.  However Unlike the other branches of the armed forces, the navy is peculiar in that the captain of the ship has powers that no other military man has. Out on the high seas, thousands of miles from land, ANYTHING can happen to you. If the captains says, “throw all the niggers overboard,” guess what? You better have your swimmin trunks on! The powers of your commanders are absolute and failure to obey can get you shot! Right there on the ship.

I don’t want to give away too much of the book but it turns out that the White officers were having contests to see who’s crew could load the most ammunition in the shortest amount of time. In other words it was a game of “my niggers are better than your niggers.” This is an example of how White Supremacists make their work and play the same thing. Not only do they achieve high ammo load rates which gets them promotions (work) but they also get to make niggers “sweat bullets” as they scramble to keep from dropping these bombs that just keep coming (play).

Ammo loading was a demanding, difficult job that nobody wanted. All day long you were surrounded by thousands of tons of bombs and shells; the detonation of a single one would cause a chain reaction that would ignite all of them.

This book tells the story of the 50 Black males who protested their unsafe working conditions. One interesting response the White Supremacist made to this protest was to stop segregating the Black males in large groups.  When Black males are collectively mistreated by White Supremacist it is impossible for the individual victim to pretend it did not happen…too many witnesses.

So what they did was start dispersing the Black sailors in groups of 5 or 10 on to different ships were they would no longer have a critical mass of Black people. This is really the preferred format for White Supremacists; one victim per suspect. The average White person can “handle” the average Black person when it comes to racism. But in a group of 50 Black males, there’s always at least one “shoot me nigger” who is unwilling to be mistreated any longer; David Walker, Nat Turner…Garvey. There’s always one who can’t seem to shut up and his attitude is always infectious because its the only one thats truthful.

The Port Chicago “Mutiny” was an exercise in counter racism. You should read this book in light of all the post Sept. 11th “united we stand” rhetoric. “One nation, under God, with liberty and Justice for all?” That’s a false statement. Racism poisons the relationships between people and inhibits all constructive activity among them.

If you don’t stand for Justice, injustice will stand for you.

Is that what you want?

Josh Wickett


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