The story of the Port Chicago Disaster is a hidden piece of important civil rights history, yet most of us never learned about it in school even though it happened right here in the East Bay.
During World War II, 202 African American sailors lost their lives while loading ammunition for the war efforts in the Pacific Theatre in a massive explosion at the Port Chicago Munitions Depot. A total of 320 died that day. It was the biggest loss of life on the home front during the war.
It obviously was an extremely dangerous situation, yet the 328 African American sailors who were there when the disaster occurred were ordered to go back to work. Fifty refused and were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to prison where they remained for the rest of the war.
Get the whole story
In keeping with Black History Month, the USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum is hosting a presentation about the Port Chicago Disaster on February 17 at 11 a.m., followed by a tour of the African Americans in the Military exhibit. The event is free with admission to the USS Hornet Museum—$20 for adults, $15 for seniors, students, veterans, $10 for kids 7-17. Under age 7 free.
Eric Stearns of the National Park Service (NPS) will present the full details of this civil rights story. Find out exactly what happened to those sailors, and why we all should remember it to make us a better country in the future.
Stearns has worked for the NPS for more than 20 years at 15 different sites, mostly in the Bay Area. He currently works at the Four Parks in the East Bay, including Port Chicago, John Muir House, Rosie the Riveter, and Eugene O’Neill House. He has been sharing this story about Port Chicago with the public for many years.