Thursday, June 23, 2016

Glazer's Port Chicago 50 resolution unanimously approved by state Senate

State Sen. Steve Glazer's resolution asks President
Obama for an executive order exonerating the Port
Chicago 50 of their convictions in 1944 for mutiny.
The state Senate voted Thursday to urge President Obama to fully exonerate members of infamous Port Chicago 50, the group of World War II-era African American soldiers who were wrongly convicted of mutiny at the Concord naval installation.

East Bay state Sen. Steve Glazer, the author of the senate resolution said, “It’s hard to believe that I have to stand here today and make this plea after so many decades of delay and inaction.”

“With this we can close an ugly chapter in California history and American history," he added. "These men and their families deserve to have their names cleared from this miscarriage of justice.”

Berkeley state Sen. Loni Hancock, who publicly backed the resolution on the senate floor Thursday, said, “This story is legendary as an example of injustice in our area. It’s time to rectify it.”

The resolution was unanimously approved, 35-0.

The incident followed the explosion of a transport ship in July 1944 that was being loaded with munitions at Port Chicago near Concord. The blast killed 320 American soldiers and injured another 390. Most of the soldiers were African Americans, and many, including the 50 later convicted of mutiny, were quickly ordered to return to the damaged and unsafe site to begin the clean up and reconstruction effort.

Their white counterparts, meanwhile, were given 30 days leave. When the group of servicemen balked, they were later court marshaled and convicted to jail sentences, some as long as 15 years.

Soon after public opinion turned against the military’s handling of the case and the 50 soldiers were released, but their convictions stood, along with their record of service sullied. The U.S. Navy ultimately rescinded their dishonorable discharges, but they were never officially exonerated. All have since passed away.

President Obama, however, has previously said he does not have authority to overturn the convictions, but Glazer’s resolution asks instead for an executive order acknowledging the racial injustice surrounding the action.