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Pics of Port Chicago Naval Magazine Memorial w/Story
In honor of Black History Month: The Port Chicago Naval Magazine Explosion Became The Genesis for the Civil Rights Movement in America.
On December 7 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and as a result the US military became involved in WW2. This mobilized the US military thus opening up the apprenticeship branch to blacks for the first time. Feeling patriotic, they enlisted by the hundreds. Additionally there were no jobs and the military at that time was the best opportunity for them to work and secure a future. They thought their enlistment would actually make America a better country for blacks/African American people. Some were drafted; and after boot camp in the Great Lakes many were sent to Port Chicago California.
Port Chicago was the busiest and largest ammo magazine in the United States. High explosives arrived by trains day and night and it was believed that the most rigid safety guidelines were used at all times. Anywhere from 30/30 rifle cartridges, block buster bombs aka 2000 pounders, torpedoes, and depth charges were loaded onto Liberty and Victory ships and sent to the Pacific.
However, on July 17th 1944 at approximately 10:08pm a metallic ring and crashing timber were heard. 5-7 seconds later a minor explosion occurred, which set-off a chain reaction that ignited a cargo hold of 4,600 tons of ammunition on the Liberty ship S.S. E. A. Bryan. The detonation of that ship caused an explosion so large that it could be seen and heard 48 miles away. And according to UC Berkeley’s seismograph the explosion measured 3.4 on the Richter scale. The fireball was 3 miles in diameter and sent parts of the ships 12,000 feet into the air. Pilots flying over it at that time reported seeing chunks of metal the size of suitcases fly past them. The explosion knocked another ship the SS Quinault Victory 500 yards away from the dock on a 200 foot column of water and turned it upside down. A fire barge and a US Coast Guard fire boat were also destroyed in the explosion.
All 320 men on duty were killed instantly and 202 of them were African American. Another 390 were wounded by falling debris. That explosion accounted for 15% of all African American losses during WW2. It was the largest explosion to ever occur on US soil. Remember Hawaii was not a US State at that time.
The scene was quickly cleaned up by the Army Seabees, and less than a month later the survivors were ordered back to Mare Island Naval Facility to once again begin loading munitions. However; most of the men refused, thus starting one of the most racist military trials in US History. The men who refused were actually afraid of another explosion because they lacked proper training, equipment and leadership. So they were incarcerated on a barge tied to a pier. 200 men had agreed to get back to work, but were also jailed in the brig instead of loading muntions. And the 50 who did not agree were actually charged with mutiny. They were ultimately thrown in the brig and most got at least 8 years, and some got 15 years. However the Navy did institute some changes which included desegregation of the military, and white enlisted were then also required to load munitions. Some of the African American men who were incarcerated in the brig were never exonerated. They have also never been recognized for their bravery.
The Port Chicago Munitions disaster, and subsequent mutiny was the genesis of the civil rights movement in the United States.
written by Dina Boyer, photos by Dina Boyer
disclaimer: not affiliated with the National Park Service.
Most munitions bunkers are now not in use.
Links for further reading:
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/port-chicago-disaster (July 17, 1944)
A very surreal place.
The explosion was so large that is created a 200 foot column of water and a 60 foot deep crater in a deep water port. Many lives were lost.
...were blown 12,000 feet into the air. The falling debris injured the survivors of the explosion.
Original train cars from 1944?
...however it was mostly blacks that were killed.
Comment: While I was in the Navy we were told to remove anything metallic before lifting ammo.
Their hulls consisted of half inch steel. The explosion was so large that it literally stretched the metal.
This memorial is not open to the public, and anyone who requests a tour must give up some info so the National Park Service and military police can confirm your identity.