Congressman seeks justice for ‘Port Chicago 50’

A requirement that the U.S. Navy address the plight of black sailors who made a stand after an explosion in Contra Costa County during World War II is a step closer to becoming law, a Bay Area legislator’s office announced Thursday.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek, offered a provision in a defense spending bill that has the Navy examine racial bias in the treatment of black sailors who were court-martialed after a deadly blast in 1944 at a depot in the former Port Chicago Naval Magazine.

Referred to as the Port Chicago 50, the black munitions sailors refused to return to the unsafe working conditions that killed 435 of their fellow sailors as well as civilians.

DeSaulnier’s provision would have the Navy investigate circumstances of the incident and the subsequent court-martial and report the findings to Congress, according to the legislator’s office.

The provision is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the Committee on Armed Services in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday.

DeSaulnier said in a statement:

“Today marks an important milestone in the continued fight for recognition of the Port Chicago 50. … I appreciate the support this measure received from my colleagues, and I will continue working to move this legislative effort forward until all of these sailors are completely exonerated.”

Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, supported DeSaulnier’s congressional efforts to have the Port Chicago 50 exonerated with a resolution he unveiled earlier this month.