On August 7, 2023, the City of Pittsburg, California passed a resolution supporting efforts to exonerate the Port Chicago 50 – the African American World War II sailors who were wrongfully imprisoned for standing up for racial equality and legally-compliant working conditions in 1944. The next day, the cities of Antioch and Brentwood passed similar resolutions. This commitment to bringing long-overdue justice to the sailors of Port Chicago is the latest in an outpouring of official support which includes the State of California, 11 cities, 19 mayors, U.S. Representatives, State Senators, State Assemblymembers, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, Pittsburg Unified School District, and the East Bay Regional Park District.
U.S. Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10), following the work of his predecessor Representative George Miller, has led congressional efforts to exonerate the sailors for nearly a decade. In February of this year, alongside Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-12) and Rep. John Garamendi (CA-08), DeSaulnier introduced a congressional resolution calling for the President of the United States and Secretary of the Navy to clear the records of the sailors. When the resolution was announced, DeSaulnier stated, "The resolve of these brave sailors never waivered, and neither will ours as we stand firm in our pursuit of justice."
Resolutions recently passed by the cities of Albany, Antioch, Brentwood, Concord, Danville, Lafayette, Martinez, Orinda, Pittsburg, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek all support DeSaulnier's resolution as well as local and state efforts to exonerate the sailors. Many of the local leaders who voted to pass these resolutions have been calling for justice for years, including supporting the naming of the 2540-acre Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50, which was named in honor of the sailors and the civil rights attorney whose national advocacy campaign was instrumental in securing their freedom and the desegregation of the Navy.
Local support for the sailors of Port Chicago is nothing new, however the movement has been bolstered over the past two years by the naming of the regional park and, for the first time, through the persistent leadership of Senator Steve Glazer (SD-07), the official endorsement of the State of California for full exoneration. These actions have served to raise awareness of the sailors' role in our nation's civil rights history, and has brought positive momentum to ongoing exoneration efforts.
This most recent outpouring of local support is coming in anticipation of next year's 80th anniversary of the Port Chicago disaster and the official opening of the regional park. Concord City Councilmember Carlyn Obringer, who has been a strong advocate for the sailors for years, said, "I think many agree this is the time to get justice for these fifty brave sailors." Obringer urges residents who want to get involved to sign a public petition which has already garnered 1700 signatures.
These local and state legislative efforts have been backed by strong community support which has included letters and calls to U.S. Senators and the Department of the Navy, and the Change.org petition which was created in December 2022 by Contra Costa County Bar Association's Port Chicago Task Force.
The Contra Costa County Bar Association's Port Chicago Task Force is comprised of attorneys who are members of the Contra Costa County Bar Association, as well as non-attorney members of the community with an interest in seeking justice for the Port Chicago 50. On July 6, 2023, Task Force Chair Jonathan U. Lee spoke at the Contra Costa County Mayors Conference to invite cities to join exoneration efforts. In an extraordinary sign of solidarity, the Mayors Conference, on behalf of its 19 mayors, voted this month to call on the President and Secretary of the Navy to clear the records of the sailors.