BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                     AJR 33

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          Date of Hearing:   April 26, 2016


                                 Jacqui Irwin, Chair

          AJR 33  
          (Bonilla) - As Introduced March 7, 2016

          SUBJECT:  Port Chicago disaster:  African American Sailors of  
          the United States Navy

          SUMMARY:  This measure urges the United States to take certain  
          actions with regard to a disaster at the Chicago Naval Magazine  
          in Port Chicago, California. Specifically, this measure would  
          have the Legislature resolve:

          1)To urge recognition that the trial and conviction of the 50  
            African American sailors of the United States Navy for mutiny  
            in connection with their service at the Port Chicago Naval  
            Magazine in Concord, California, during World War II were  
            wrongfully pursued because of racial prejudice

          2)To urge the Congress to publicly exonerate those 50 African  
            American sailors of the United States Navy in order to further  
            aid in healing the racial divide that continues to exist in  
            the United States.

          3)To urge Congress to take action to retroactively convert the  
            general discharge granted to each of the 50 African American  
            sailors to an honorable discharge; and


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          4)To transmit the resolution as specified.  

          EXISTING LAW:  

        1)Executive Order 9981, signed by President Truman in 1948,   
          desegregated the United States Armed Forces.

        2)Defines a person guilty of mutiny as someone who, with intent to  
          usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert  
          with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty  
          or creates any violence or disturbance (U.S. Code, Title 10,   
          894 Art. 94).

        3)Prohibits an employer from discriminating against any individual  
          with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges  
          of employment, because of the individual's race, color,  
          religion, sex, or national origin (U.S. Code, Title 42,   

          FISCAL EFFECT:  This bill is not keyed fiscal.


          According to the Author: 

            In 1944 during World War II, the Port Chicago Naval Magazine  


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            transported bombs, shells, and mines among other ammunitions.   
            Loading ammunition and explosives was performed exclusively by  
            African American sailors under the supervision of white  
            officers.  Despite the warnings from the longshoremen's union,  
            the United States Navy failed to adequately provide the  
            African American sailors with the proper tools necessary to  
            operate under safe working conditions.
            An explosion [on July 14, 1944] at the port killed over 300  
            men and wounded even more, most of whom were African American.  
             Many of the survivors refused to resume loading ammunitions,  
            citing unsafe working conditions, and ultimately 50 African  
            American men were convicted of muting for failing to obey  

          The Port Chicago disaster is a tragedy that accounted for more  
          than 15% of all African American naval casualties during World  
          War II.  After refusing to work without proper training under  
          the same unsafe conditions that resulted in the explosion, 50  
          African Americans were tried and convicted of mutiny for failing  
          to resume loading. As a result of the appeals process at the end  
          of the war, their sentences were reduced and almost all were  
          released by early 1946.

          The United States Navy concluded that there can be "no doubt  
          that racial prejudice was responsible for the posting of  
          Afro-American enlisted personnel to the loading divisions at  
          Port Chicago" and this same bias was documented in the trial for  
          the African American sailors.  It has been recorded that white  
          officers encouraged African American sailors to compete while  
          loading ammunition and explosives while they placed bets among  
          themselves.  Furthermore, many of the African American survivors  
          expecting to be granted survivors' leave before being reassigned  
          to regular duty were given none, while white officers were  
          permitted to go home for 30-day leaves.

          The definition of mutiny itself has been debated as it relates  
          to this trial.  Mutiny, as legally defined, assumes the intent  
          to seize command while the sailors on trial pursued a passive  


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          act of resistance in their refusal to work due to extremely  
          dangerous conditions.  Thurgood Marshall, then a chief counsel  
          for the NAACP, stated he saw no reason why the men should be  
          tried for mutiny rather than on lesser charges of individual  
          subordination and insisted they were being tried for mutiny  
          "solely because of their race and color."

          As California and the United States have sought to increase  
          protections as they relate to race and workers' conditions, it  
          is important that the state and federal government recognize the  
          errors of the past and attempt to make amends.  The officers  
          needlessly and deliberately put African American workers in  
          harm's way and the court's insistence that they be convicted of  
          mutiny for refusing to work under the circumstances is unjust.   
          Despite being members of the military, these sailors were  
          discriminated against based on their race.  Though action to  
          alter their convictions and characterization of discharges is  
          within the exclusive purview of the Congress and the federal  
          government, this resolution is a statement by California both to  
          the public and to the federal government about the injustice and  
          loss of life that occurred as a result of the Port Chicago  



          American G.I. Forum of California

          American Legion, Department of California

          AMVETS, Department of California


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          California Association of County Veterans Service Officers

          California State Commanders Veterans Council

          Military Officers Association of America, California Council of  

          Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of California

          Vietnam Veterans of America, California State Council


          None on File.

          Analysis Prepared by:Ryan VanZuylen, John Spangler / V.A. /  
          (916) 319-3550


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