Friday, April 24, 2015

The Port Chicago 50

Hands down the best nonfiction book I've read all year, maybe even in a few years! I was soo enamored with this book that I finished it in under two hours. I simply could not put it down! The Port Chicago 50 talked about an event in history that I literally had no idea about, the largest mutiny trial in naval history and at the time one of the largest man made explosions history. The tagline for the novel sums it up, "Disaster, Mutiny, and the fight for Civil Rights."

During the first half of the twentieth century all the United States armed forces units were segregated, including the Navy. Black men could join but they generally could not fight, they were relegated to doing all the cooking cleaning, loading, etc., because they were considered "unfit" for combat. At the start of WWII many black men signed up only to be disappointed that German POW's got better treatment then they did. This book focuses on a few units of all black Navy sailors who had the task of loading ammunition onto Naval ships. They had no training handling bombs, incendiary devices, and ammunition and it was only a matter of time before something disastrous happened. The higher ranked white sailors had all received several weeks worth of training but they weren't the ones handling the millions of pounds of bombs, their version of monitoring safety and supervising the black sailors included placing bets on which team could load the fastest. In this unsafe environment it came as no surprise that disaster inevitably struck. One night two explosions went off; sinking two massive Navy tankers and killing nearly 400 people (most of whom were black), the blast was soo massive that over a mile away windows were blown out and nearly 700 people were injured by flying glass and debris. Instead of learning from their mistakes, the Navy sent the remaining black sailors to another port to learn ammunition.... still with no training. Joe Small and 49 other black men refused to go back to work until they were given training and safety precautions, the Navy refused and tried all men with mutiny. This is their story and it needs to be heard. Before Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, and other Civil Rights heroes, there were these men who stood up to injustice and helped change the course of history.

An absolute must read, I can't recommend this book enough!

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