Representatives DeSaulnier, Lee, and Garamendi Introduce Resolution to Exonerate the Port Chicago 50

"The resolve of these brave sailors never waivered, and neither will ours"

Press Release

H.Con.Res.16 Text

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10), Barbara Lee (CA-12), and John Garamendi (CA-08) introduced House Resolution, Recognizing the victims of the Port Chicago explosion of July 17, 1944, the 79th anniversary of the greatest homeland loss of life of World War II, and exonerating the 50 African-American sailors unjustly court-martialed by the Navy (H.Con.Res 16). The resolution is part of their ongoing effort to right the historic injustice of the wrongful conviction of African American sailors following the deadliest home front disaster of World War II at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in the East Bay.

"Black History Month is a fitting opportunity to renew our call to honor the Port Chicago 50 and address our country’s history of systemic racism, which I have been advocating for since coming to Congress in 2015 following the work of my predecessor, Congressman George Miller," said Congressman DeSaulnier. "The resolve of these brave sailors never waivered, and neither will ours as we stand firm in our pursuit of justice. I am proud to again introduce this resolution alongside Congresswoman Lee and Congressman Garamendi."

"As a cosponsor of this resolution, I am proud to stand with my colleagues to rectify a historic injustice and call for the exoneration of the Port Chicago 50," said Congresswoman Barbara Lee. "These 50 courageous sailors have suffered the impact of racial discrimination throughout their service in World War II, and their names have been tainted for 73 years. In today's political climate, we must come together against discrimination and inequality. It is imperative that we rectify this wrongdoing and bring justice to those sailors who made great sacrifices for our nation."

"The Port Chicago 50 were ordered to their deaths in summer 1944, nearly four years before President Truman signed the executive order formally banning racial segregation in the American military. Now, almost eight decades later and even after President Clinton’s 1999 pardon for Freddie Meeks, the families of the Port Chicago 50 convicted for mutinying against an order that should never have been given are still waiting for justice. As Port Chicago’s new Congressman, I am proud to stand with those family members and my colleagues Representatives Mark DeSaulnier and Barbara Lee in demanding that justice be delayed no further," said Congressman John Garamendi.

"Thank goodness for Rep. Mark DeSaulnier for carrying forward the exoneration idea. The Port Chicago 50 should have their names cleared," said Rev. Diana McDaniel, President of The Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial. "We are most appreciative and are very hopeful that under President Joseph Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, justice will prevail."

On July 17, 1944 the tragic explosion at Port Chicago killed 320 mostly African American munitions workers. Prior to the incident, the Navy failed to properly train the sailors to load munitions, which likely led to the explosion. While white officers were given time off following the accident, African American sailors were ordered to return to work in the same unsafe conditions that killed their fellow servicemembers. When 50 of these men refused, they were wrongfully convicted of mutiny.

Representatives DeSaulnier and Lee have introduced a version of this resolution in the 114th, 115th, 116th, and 117th Congresses, and together they have called on then-President Obama and past and current Secretaries of the Navy requesting they remove these racially biased convictions from the Port Chicago 50’s records.

Additionally, Congressman DeSaulnier successfully included a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requiring the Navy to investigate the circumstances surrounding the treatment of sailors at Port Chicago. This led to the Navy acknowledging the injustice that was served to the Port Chicago 50. DeSaulnier has also secured funding to create a public meeting space near the site of the Port Chicago explosion to bring awareness to this dark chapter of our history and share the stories of the Port Chicago 50. ⋆