Home Contra Costa County Senate Approves Resolution to Exonerate the “Chicago 50”

Senate Approves Resolution to Exonerate the “Chicago 50”

by ECT

Calls on U.S. President to Rectify Mistreatment of African-American Servicemen Found Guilty of Mutiny in 1944 Blast

Sacramento, CA – Sen. Steve Glazer’s legislation calling on the President of the United States to exonerate 50 African-American U.S. Navy Seamen and overturn their convictions for mutiny in 1945 was approved unanimously Thursday by the state Senate.

Senate Resolution 69 seeks to rectify the mistreatment of men who served their country at a time when military services were still segregated and were put in a dangerous situation

“By exonerating these men, we can close an ugly chapter in California’s history and give proper recognition to the discrimination that took place at the time,” Glazer said. “These men and their families deserve their names cleared from this miscarriage of justice.”

On July 17, 1944, two explosions killed and injured more than 300 U.S. Navy personnel at Port Chicago Naval Weapons Station, near San Francisco, as munitions were being loaded on Liberty Ships. Of the 320 fatalities, 200 were African-American U.S. Navy Seamen, making up 15% of all African-American servicemen killed during World War II.

Moreover, the African-American munitions handlers who were killed were blamed for the disaster, yet had not been properly trained in the handling of those explosives.

A few weeks later, African-American Seamen were ordered back to work loading munitions at the same location. Two-hundred and fifty eight of these sailors refused the orders because of continuing unsafe working conditions and inadequate training in the proper handling of munitions.

After being threatened with the death penalty, 208 of these men reluctantly returned to work. However, the remaining 50 were court-martialed and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

After the war ended in 1945, the Navy announced that 47 of the 50 men would be released to active duty. Two remained in a hospital recuperating from injuries, while a third remained in prison due to bad conduct. Eventually, those of the 50 who had not committed later offenses were given a general discharge from the Navy under honorable conditions  — an indication that the U.S. Navy acknowledged the convictions were unjust.

Yet their convictions were never rescinded and the “Port Chicago 50” carried with them charges of mutiny until they died.

Senate Resolution 69 seeks to right the wrongs held against those who had been unjustly blamed in the aftermath of the Port Chicago disaster, as well as to rectify all mistreatment by the military directed at those accused of mutiny.

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