Friday, September 4, 2015

Port Chicago Pardons?

Only July 17, 1944, there were two explosions at the Naval base on Suisun Bay. 320 men were killed including 202 black sailors who were loading munitions onto cargo ships. The Oakland Tribune reports "White enlisted men were given 30 days' leave after the accident" but "Black enlisted men were ordered back to work." When 50 of them refused, they were charged with mutiny and convicted. Originally, they were all sentenced to 15 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. Says the Tribune:
These men weren't mutinous. They were scared, as anyone would have been. Keep in mind that they had enlisted; they had volunteered to serve their country, even though their country treated them as second-class citizens ,,, It's time. Indeed, it's long past time for the nation to acknowledge the travesty, the racism to be more precise, of prosecuting 50 African-American sailors for mutiny after they refused to return to work following the [explosion] at Port Chicago.
In December of 1999, 37 members of Congress supported the pardon application of one of the few African American soldiers that was stilll alive, Freddie Meeks. Now, the Tribune is calling on President Obama to grant a posthusmous pardon for the other 49, or:
... direct the Board for Corrections of Naval Records to once again review the cases with the hope of overturning the convictions. The board reviewed the cases and amazingly found in 1994 that race wasn't a factor in their convictions. Perhaps the passage of time will give the agency a better historical perspective. Or, the president could issue a presidential declaration acknowledging the Navy's mistreatment of these men and clearing their names. 
See full editorial here.

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