With over 200 people in attendance, the story was retold in both historical and familial ways. Several women spoke about being born a few months after their fathers lost their lives in the incident. Respected author Robert Allen spoke, and also introduced the teenage Cougar Cadet Corps of Alameda, who read the testimonies of sailors on the dock that day in July 1944.
California Senators Mark DeSaulnier and Roderick Wright delivered impassioned support for the brothers who lost their lives, and for those who lost their freedom, in what is in fact the largest single Naval disaster in our records.
But what was most compelling was the testimony of survivors and those present at Port Chicago that day. Surviving brothers from as far away as Cinncinnati and Oklahoma City attended, and rose to speak
Those from the docks noted the Navy's refusal to hire ILWU to load these ships, and the Navy's insistence on using unskilled teenage African Americans on these docks. All speakers addressed the rigid segregation that existed, and mentioned that for early on, blacks lived on barges because residence barracks were not available to them. All spoke of the diligence and hard work of the long shore sailors, in the face of a brutally repressive racist environment which the Navy maintained, a policy which existed throughout the military in those days.
Families spoke of the aftermath of the explosion, the lack of dignity and respect in the manner by which they received notifications. Senator Wright itemized the greatly reduced settlements the families received, compared to what white families received.
The event was staged by the Park Service, all event details were very well done, and dignity and respect was maintained. The Navy was, of course, absent,this year, with survivors so actively participating, and this absence perpetuates the disgrace we all associate with the Navy when we hear the words Port Chicago.
There are several things to remember:
1) Senator Wright requests support for his 4 point program --complete exoneration, recognition and respect, fair compensation, and burial of some of those perished brothers at Arlington National Cemetery.
2) The Park Service is encouraging those who want to attend next year's program to be sure to plan in advance.
3) on 9 August, at Mare Island, Berth 24 2PM -4PM, an event to support the Port Chicago 50 will occur --please attend.
4) we all owe to ourselves and our organizations a sincere effort to make this event a fundamental part of our history --there are a number of complex issues to understand, these can only be resolved by dealing with the issues head on, one on one, face to face.
Thanks to the Park Service, especially to Superintendent Martha Lee, and to all who helped with today's unforgettable event.
The photo above is ILWU Member Howard Keylor in salutes to the Port Chicago brothers and their families.