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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.