77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion

Jason-Felisbret-speaking-at-the-77th-anniversary-commemoration-of-the-Port-Chicago-Explosion-by-Johnnie-Burrell-071721-1400x486, 77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion, Local News & Views
On July 17, 2021, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and others joined with the Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial in Concord to honor those who were killed in the Port Chicago disaster of 1944. Air Force veteran and actor Jason Felisbret, at the podium, spoke up about the depths of racism within the military at this 77th anniversary commemoration of the tragedy. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

by Johnnie Burrell

During World War II, Port Chicago was a segregated naval munitions base on the outer shores of San Francisco Bay. Black seamen were required to load ammunition onto ships bound for the South Pacific under the watch of their white officers – an incredibly dangerous and difficult task.

On July 26, 1944, an explosion rocked the base, killing 320 men, most of whom were Black ammunition loaders. White officers were given leave time and commended for heroic efforts; the surviving Black enlistees were sent to load ammunition on another ship. When they refused, 50 were singled out, charged and convicted of mutiny. It was the largest mutiny trial in U.S. history.

Jason-Felisbret-at-77th-anniversary-commemoration-of-the-Port-Chicago-Explosion-by-Johnnie-Burrell-071721, 77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion, Local News & Views
Jason Felisbret, front left, spoke at the commemoration, sharing in detail the story of San Francisco’s 1944 Port Chicago disaster, an explosion that killed 320 men – 202 of whom were Black ammunition loaders, a notoriously dangerous job. White officers were given leave time and commended, but Black enlistees were sent back to work or charged with mutiny if they refused. It was the largest mutiny trial of U.S. history. When Felisbret learned of Port Chicago during his service in 2010, he found that none of his white colleagues knew about the disaster. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

Pictured at the podium, Jason Felisbret told of learning of the disaster in 2010. He served in the Air Force, active and reserve and at the Pentagon before his retirement. He said he was amazed to learn that NONE of his white military colleagues, and most of his other military colleagues, knew the story of Port Chicago. 

Congressman-Mark-DeSaulnier-at-podium-77th-anniversary-commemoration-of-the-Port-Chicago-Explosion-by-Johnnie-Burrell-071721-1400x434, 77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion, Local News & Views
Congressman Mark DeSaulnier speaks at the 77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

Since then, Jason has dedicated his time and energy to telling the story of a pivotal event in American history that for the most part has been excluded from American history books. His Uncle John, 17 years old at the time, died aboard a ship that exploded. 

Congresswoman-Barbara-Lee-john-a.-powell-and-Congressman-Mark-DeSaulnier-at-a-town-hall-on-Port-Chicago-by-Johnnie-Burrell-1400x1183, 77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion, Local News & Views
Congresswoman Barbara Lee joins Professor john a. powell and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier at a town hall. Congressmembers Barbara Lee and Mark DeSaulnier recently introduced a House Resolution recognizing the victims of the Port Chicago explosion on July 26, 1944, and exonerating the 50 African American sailors unjustly court-martialed by the Navy. Professor john a. powell leads the UC Berkeley Othering and Belonging Institute, where he is a professor of law and African American Studies and Ethnic Studies. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

Jason is pictured with his wife and two daughters accepting the American flag from National Park Service Chief of Interpretation Kelli English to honor and remember his Uncle John. The commemoration was held in Concord, Calif., on July 17, 2021.

Jason-Felisbret-with-wife-and-two-daughters-at-at-the-77th-anniversary-commemoration-of-the-Port-Chicago-Explosion-by-Johnnie-Burrell-071721, 77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion, Local News & Views
Jason Felisbret was accompanied by his wife and two daughters at the Port Chicago disaster anniversary. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

On that day and location, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier joined with the Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial to honor the 77th anniversary of the Port Chicago disaster and to tell of a House Resolution he and Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced recognizing the victims of the Port Chicago explosion on July 17, 1944 – the greatest homeland loss of life of World War II – and exonerating the 50 African American sailors unjustly court-martialed by the Navy.

Port-Chicago-Mutiny-by-Robert-L.-Allen-by-Johnnie-Burrell-1400x1022, 77th anniversary commemoration of the Port Chicago Explosion, Local News & Views
To learn more about the tragic explosion, read “The Port Chicago Mutiny” by investigative journalist Robert L. Allen describing the shocking history contributing to the unlawful court martialing of 50 African American sailors following the explosion. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

Johnnie Burrell is a renowned San Francisco videographer, who records Black history as it’s made in countless videos. Visit his website, www.internationalmediatv.com, and his YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/johnnieburrellstv. He can be reached at jb@internationalmediatv.com.