BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



          SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
                             Senator Jim Nielsen, Chair
                                2015 - 2016  Regular 

          Bill No:             AJR 33         Hearing Date:    6/14/16
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          |Author:    |Bonilla                                              |
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          |Version:   |5/5/16                                               |
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          |Urgency:   |                       |Fiscal:    |No               |
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          |Consultant:|Wade Teasdale                                        |
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            Subject:  Port Chicago disaster:  African American Sailors of  
                               the United States Navy


           DESCRIPTION
            
          Summary:
           
          This resolution urges the Congress of the United States to  
          publicly exonerate the 50 African American sailors of the United  
          States Navy, who were inappropriately tried for and convicted of  
          mutiny in connection with the Port Chicago Naval Magazine  
          incident  (July 1944), and to retroactively convert the general  
          discharge granted to each of those sailors to an honorable  
          discharge.

           COMMENT
           
           1)Legislative Findings  :

             a)   The deadliest home-front disaster of World War II  
               occurred at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in Concord,  
               California, on July 17, 1944, when an explosion at the  
               naval facility killed or wounded 710 people, 435 of whom  
               were African American.

             b)   This single disaster accounted for more than 15 percent  
               of all African American naval casualties during World War  
               II.

             c)   After the disaster, 258 African American survivors of  







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               the explosion refused to resume the loading and unloading  
               of ammunition at the naval facility, citing inadequate  
               training and the use of unsafe practices.

             d)   According to a United States Navy report, "the actual  
               work of loading ammunition and explosives aboard the ships  
               was performed exclusively by Afro-Americans under the  
               supervision of white officers and Afro-American petty  
               officers" and "the routine assignment of Afro-American  
               enlisted personnel to manual labor was clearly motivated by  
               race and premised upon the mistaken notion that they were  
               intellectually inferior and thus incapable of meeting the  
               same standards as their white counterparts."

             e)   One of the ships was loaded with around 4,600 tons of  
               ammunition and high explosives, some of which weighed 650  
               pounds with activating mechanisms or fuses installed.

             f)   At that time there was no formal training in safe  
               methods of ammunition handling given to enlisted men, and  
               the United States Navy failed to adequately provide these  
               men with the tools necessary to operate under safe working  
               conditions, even after the explosion occurred.

             g)   Weeks before the explosion, the longshoremen's union  
               warned the United States Navy that there would be a  
               disaster if the Navy continued to use untrained seamen to  
               load ammunition and offered to send experienced  
               longshoremen to train Navy recruits in safe handling of  
               ammunition, but this offer from the union was ignored by  
               the United States Navy.

             h)   Subsequent research has confirmed the use of unsafe  
               ammunition loading methods at the naval facility at the  
               time and has recognized the existence of pervasive racial  
               prejudice in the United States Navy during World War II.

             i)   As documented in the book "The Port Chicago Mutiny" by  
               Dr. Robert L. Allen, a worker described Port Chicago as a  
               "slave outfit," adding that "we were considered a cheap  
               labor force from the beginning."

             j)   White officers would encourage African American sailors  
               to compete while loading ammunition and explosives while  








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               those officers placed bets among themselves.

             aa)             Following the explosion, many of the African  
               American survivors expected to be granted survivors' leave  
               before being reassigned to regular duty, but that leave was  
               not granted, even for those who had been hospitalized, and  
               all African American men were sent back to work loading  
               ammunition under the same officers as before.

             bb)             White officers were permitted to go home for  
               30-day leaves.

             cc)             Fifty sailors of the United States Navy, all  
               African American men, ultimately were tried and convicted  
               of mutiny for failing to obey orders to resume loading  
               activities.

             dd)             A mutiny is active revolt with the intent of  
               taking charge, but a refusal to work is a passive act of  
               resistance without intent to seize power.

             ee)             Thurgood Marshall, then a chief counsel for  
               the NAACP, was reported to state he saw no reason why the  
               men should be tried for mutiny, which implies a mass  
               conspiracy, rather than on lesser charges of individual  
               subordination and blasted the trial by stating that the  
               defendants were being tried for mutiny "solely because of  
               their race and color."

             ff)             The United States Navy has 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  
               similar racial prejudicial bias has been documented in the  
               conduct of the trial that resulted in the court-martial of  
               the sailors at Port Chicago.

             gg)             Virtually all of the convicted sailors were  
               released from prison early in 1946 and were given a general  
               discharge from the Navy "under honorable conditions," and  
               the United States Navy announced at the time that race  
               would no longer be a factor in filling its jobs.

             hh)             In 1999, Freddie Meeks was pardoned by  








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               President Bill Clinton in recognition of the injustice he  
               suffered as one of the convicted sailors, and at the time  
               of his pardon, Mr. Meeks said, "After all these years, the  
               world should know what happened at Port Chicago. It should  
               be cleared up that we did not commit mutiny, and we were  
               charged with that because of our race."

             ii)             In 2003, the National Park Service dedicated  
               the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial at the  
               disaster site, which serves not only as a tribute to the  
               320 men who died in that World War II explosion, but also  
               as an acknowledgment of that event as the touchstone for  
               desegregation in the military and the beginning of civil  
               rights for all Americans.

             jj)             In a July 17, 2014, letter recognizing the  
               70th anniversary of the tragedy, President Barack Obama  
               acknowledged the African American sailors at Port Chicago,  
               stating, "Faced with tremendous obstacles, they fought on  
               two fronts - for freedom abroad and equality at home."

             aaa)            All of the sailors involved in the Port  
               Chicago cases have passed away, but their family members  
               and friends continue to request that the sailors be cleared  
               of all charges. 
           
           1)Resolves  :  
           
             a)   That the Legislature respectfully urges the 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, as evidenced by the  
               racial bias in the United States Navy's original findings  
               in their cases and the different treatment afforded to the  
               convicted sailors' white counterparts and officers. 

             b)   That the Legislature respectfully urges the Congress to  
               publicly exonerate the 50 sailors in order to further aid  
               in healing the racial divide that continues to exist in the  
               United States.

             c)   That the Legislature respectfully urges the Congress to  








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               retroactively convert each sailor's general discharge to an  
               honorable discharge.

           2)Related/Prior Legislation  :

          SR 69 (Glazer, Hall, Huff, and Mitchell, 2016) urges recognition  
          that the trial and conviction of the 50 African American sailors  
          of the United States Navy for mutiny regarding the Port Chicago  
          incident were wrongfully pursued because of racial prejudice,  
          and urges the Congress of the United States to publicly  
          exonerate those sailors in order to further aid in healing the  
          racial divide that continues to exist in the United States.  
          Pending on Senate Third Reading.

          SJR 21 (Wright, Resolution Chapter 47, Statutes of 2010)  
          memorializes the Congress and President of the United States to  
          act to vindicate the sailors unjustly blamed for, and the  
          sailors convicted of mutiny following, the Port Chicago  
          disaster, and to rectify any mistreatment by the military of  
          those sailors.

           POSITIONS
           
          Sponsor:  Author.

          Support:
          American G.I. Forum of California
          American Legion - Department of California
          AMVETS - Department of California
          California Association of County Veterans Service Officers 
          California State Commanders Veteran Council
          Military Officers Association of America - California Council of  
          Chapters
          Veterans of Foreign Wars - Department of California
          Vietnam Veterans of American - California State Council
          One (1) individual

          Oppose:   None on file.


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