Read The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin Online


An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men rAn astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men refused to go back to work until unsafe and unfair conditions at the docks were addressed. When the dust settled, fifty were charged with mutiny, facing decades in jail and even execution. This is a fascinating story of the prejudice that faced black men and women in America's armed forces during World War II, and a nuanced look at those who gave their lives in service of a country where they lacked the most basic rights....

Title : The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781596437968
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 200 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights Reviews

  • Rachel Reads Ravenously
    2019-05-05 00:47

    I was lucky enough to hear Steve Sheinkin speak at the CLCSC Fall Gala, and of all the interesting things he brought up, this story really stood out to me. Little known fact to anyone other than my close readers friends, I am a children's librarian. And my undergraduate degree was in history. Sheinkin's key note speech reminded me of why I love history. You see, he used to work for textbook companies, and they never told the interesting stories of history, so he wrote them on his own.This story was one not widely publicized when it happened, mostly because it affected African American soldiers. 300+ men died on our soil and it was made to be their fault because they were considered inferior. It's hard to read this story without feeling enraged, all of the stories of WWII we usually hear are those of how we were the heroes, but in my opinion we failed a lot of our own citizens by treating them like they didn't deserve basic human rights.If you are interested in nonfiction or history, I recommend this book and author. And if you have kids who are readers, give them this book. Sheinkin has a unique writing voice that doesn't talk down to the reader and yet he explains things in a clear and comprehensible way. I will most definitely be reading more of his work in the future.Follow me on ♥ Facebook ♥ Blog ♥ Instagram ♥ Twitter ♥

  • Penny Johnson
    2019-05-24 20:47

    Here's the importance of this book: I grew up literally in the shadow of Port Chicago. The edge of the base was on the other side of the fence from my high school. And I NEVER heard about the Port Chicago 50 until I read an ARC of this book. You would think at least in my junior Social Studies class, where we had an extensive civil rights unit, we would have discussed something that happened in our backyard. But no. After I read the book I asked my mother what she knew about the whole thing, as she has spent almost her entire life in the area. She remembers the explosion, and for a few days everyone was talking about it. Then nothing. Nothing in the news or on the radio. She was thrilled to read the book and find out the rest of the story!Thank you, Steve Sheinken, for your ability to bring history to life!

  • Tony Keefer
    2019-05-03 02:01

    Excellent book. My first thoughts when I finished The Port Chicago 50 were:1) Wow.2) Why hadn't I heard this story before?3) Can't wait to share this book.4) I am glad Steve Sheinkin likes to write books.

  • Renata
    2019-05-18 05:01

    This is a great work of nonfiction and an infuriating story--especially since I listened to it in the wake of the Ferguson decision. The story of these brave black sailors and the conditions they went through just ARGHHHH so inpsiring/annoying!! America!! what the hell!! what the hell!!Anyway the audiobook was fine, but probably a print book would be preferable because I assume it has some pictures? I will have to check that out to confirm.anyway, a well-researched, important story that hasn't been widely told. but also WHAT THE HELL AMERICA

  • Pamela
    2019-05-12 00:56

    Before Rosa Parks, before Jackie Robinson, before Freedom Summer . . . there was the Chicago Fifty: Fifty honorable and courageous, U.S. Navy sailors wrongfully and viciously accused of treason in the aftermath of the horrific and deadly munitions explosion at Port Chicago in Northern California during WWII. These sailors, the oldest a mere twenty-two-years-old, all African Americans, all singled out for their race, were a part of a larger unit of sailors assigned to Port Chicago. Their job: the loading of ammunition (various sized and weighted bombs - many hot with live warheads) onto warships heading into battle in the Pacific theater. These young men were fresh out of boot camp and were never trained in the handling of large explosive devices. Nor did they receive on the job training, either. But do or die, they did there best despite gross negligence and extreme prejudice on the part of their white commanding officers. That is - until the day two ships being loaded dockside were vaporized, killing hundreds of sailors . . . white and black.From there, in the shadow of trauma, grief, and horrific injuries, their story became one of first and greatest examples of civil rights battles and miscarriages of justice - then or now. And it's a riveting story written in simple but dynamic language, suitable for teens and adults wanting a less scholarly exploration. Along with the compellingly readable text are many photos and illustrations to help bring their story alive. Recommended for readers twelve and up with an interest in civil rights, race relations, military history, and the second World War.FOUR **** Precedence Setting, Judicial/Historical Nonfiction of Civil and Human Rights **** STARSAlso recommend: Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers

  • Erica Shipow
    2019-05-01 23:59

    Sheinkin does it again. The master of "amazing-but-true," "How-in-the-world-did-I-not-know-this-before?" nonfiction. It didn't grab me as quickly as Bomb did, but the build-up definitely pays off. No spoilers though! (Which is crazy because you could just go Google what happened! But I would never think to do that because Sheinkin keeps me so wrapped up in the story that I forget things like Google and Wikipedia ever existed. I trust Sheinkin and only Sheinkin to give me this information. Step aside, Internet.)

  • Edie
    2019-05-23 03:53

    We all loved Bomb and this book is equally compelling and in this case, convincing. It is a story that has not been previously told to this audience and I think it will make them outraged at the abuses taken by African American men who joined the Navy only to be treated as even less than second class citizens and for whom there was a terrible miscarriage of justice. Thurgood Marshall plays a role here as well. The story is well researched, the men well flushed out, their motives well explained. They did not set out to be heroes, they were more fed-up with the abuses they suffered at the hands of their white superiors, but ultimately their actions brought attention to the unfair conditions forced on African American seamen. And ultimately the Navy began desegregation. This is the best kind of non-fiction.

  • Joan
    2019-05-01 03:34

    Sheinkin has done it again: produced another award winner. OK, the awards haven't been announced at this point, but I can't see this not coming in for a King Award. Probably not the winner, I would guess Brown Girl Dreaming has that locked up, judging by all the talk and awards it has already won, but one of the honor books. Possibly a Siebert as well, although again, I suspect an honor, not the winner. It has been an incredible year for nonfiction. If that is due to Common Core, count me a fan of it. However, I think we had a convergence of the best nonfiction writers all coming out in one year. We'll see. Note: So I am wrong: It got an Honor book for YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. (This Award gets the award for worst award name. Jeepers. There might be picture books with not as many words as this award name!)In any case, to the book itself. This is straight American History, and nothing I had ever heard about. It is a shameful blot on the United States. It takes place in Port Chicago (in California, just to confuse things completely) during World War II. A bunch of kids, some drafted, some volunteered, ALL African American, are loading ammo onto ships to go overseas to where the all white guys are fighting for their country. In case that wasn't clear, only untrained, Black guys were loading ammo, one of the most dangerous jobs at the time. And why weren't they trained? Because clearly African Americans didn't have the intellect to learn how to do it correctly! The Navy was completely segregated and there was rampant racism. These kids had signed up to fight, not just be stevedores but as usual with kids, they had no idea what they were getting into. The inevitable happened and over 200 people died from the ammo explosion. Since everything was pretty much obliterated, no one knows precisely what happened but clearly somehow, the ammo exploded. Many of the surviving African Americans were severely injured. This explosion didn't surprise anyone, just terrify them. So, after a few days for recovery and cleanup (NOT pleasant and guess who did the nasty parts? These same kids.) the African Americans were told to line up and march and they came to a T intersection in the road. Right would have meant just safe work. Left meant going back and loading more ammo in exactly the same conditions as before. It was Left. The guys came to a halt and simply wouldn't go any further. They got charged with mutiny. This is a story of injustice, which still has not been overturned. These guys had made it clear they would obey any order except one: they weren't going to load more ammo. Thurgood Marshall got involved, unsuccessfully. As Sheinkin pointed out, all these men are now dead but they have families who keep fighting for their honor. How Sheinkin found out about this is really a fascinating look at a writer and researcher's life. While researching his prior book, Bomb, his brother in law mentioned the rumors that the bomb had been dropped a year earlier than the official date, at Port Chicago. Which shows you just how spectacular that explosion was! Sheinkin did enough at the time to satisfy himself it was merely rumors, finished up Bomb, and started researching Port Chicago. This is not a story of glory. It is not pleasant reading. But it is powerful writing and should be part of the school curriculum. It is easy to get the notion that the Civil Rights struggle started and ended with Martin Luther King and that is completely incorrect. It wasn't on purpose, but it was highly appropriate reading for the Martin Luther King birthday week!

  • Reading is my Escape
    2019-05-15 21:37

    This book tells the true story of segregation in the Navy during World War II. African Americans who joined the Navy to serve their country were not allowed to serve on ships. People thought they weren't smart or brave enough. But only the black men were given the job of loading ammunition onto the ships. This was a dangerous job and the men weren't even give the proper training. The officers bet on their crews to see who could load the fastest. Inevitably, an explosion occurred and many men were injured or killed. When the African American sailors decided they would not load ammunition unless conditions changed, they were charged with mutiny and told they could be shot.This book is part of my son's 8th grade English curriculum, so I decided to read the book along with him. I wasn't even aware of this story and I'm glad that I had the chance to read it. The author does a good job of describing the events that led up to the explosion and the actions of the sailors and the Navy afterward. It is a bit dry at times, but it's a nonfiction story, so what do you expect. My son found it boring, but then again, he is not a fan of history or even reading (except for graphic novels or spy type stories).This is a great book for schools to use in English or History classes.

  • Jill
    2019-05-15 23:55

    Once again the multiple award-winning author Steve Sheinkin excels at reporting an important (but not widely known) moment in history in a format friendly to younger readers as well as to adults. In this case, the moment he records changed the course of race relations in the U.S.Port Chicago was a U.S. Navy base in the San Francisco Bay where, during World War II, black sailers were assigned to load bombs and ammunition into ships headed for American troops in the Pacific. All the officers were white, but all the men loading the bombs were black. In addition, the whites (who were not actually doing the work) received training in safe handling of warheads and incendiary bombs, but no such training was given to the blacks.At that time, the military, like most of the country, was very segregated; even the blood supply was separated by color. Black men in uniform were not treated any better for serving the country; in fact, in parts of the country, they were considered even more offensive for presuming that their uniforms entitled them to any sort of respect or equal treatment. One white corporal reported a scene in Louisiana in which his black soldiers could not get served a meal in a single restaurant during a train stop, but a group of German prisoners of war, also at the train station, could walk right in to the station lunchroom and get served. In another instance in Louisiana, a black soldier on a bus was ordered to get out of the white section, and he replied he would rather get off the bus. He did so, but the bus driver stopped the bus, got out, and shot the soldier to death. The driver was not prosecuted. Nor were any of the other whites in southern cities who attacked black soldiers; rather, it was the victims who got charged with assault. Repeated instances like this kept the future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall busy as he travelled around the country for the NAACP trying to help fight the “avalanche of abuses reported by African American soldiers and sailors.”At Port Chicago, the soldiers were pushed to load as many bombs as possible, with officers pitting one division against the other and placing bets on whose division could load the fastest. Safety was not a concern. On July 17, 1944, there was a huge explosion, killing 320 and injuring another 390. A Navy Board of Inquiry decided that the way the explosives were being handled had no impact on safety; rather, according to the official report and based on only the testimony of the white officers:"The consensus of opinion of the witnesses…is that the colored enlisted personnel are neither temperamentally nor intellectually capable of handling high explosives…” Following this incident, a large number of black sailors refused to load ammunition again. But after the commandant of the Twelfth Naval District threatened them with a firing squad, all but fifty reported for work. These fifty were put on trial for mutiny. Their defense team was good, and worked hard to show that there were no witnesses to the white officers’ allegations of a conspiracy; that the sailors were just afraid; and that the men had no interest in "usurping, subverting, or overriding superior military authority," a part of the Navy’s definition of mutiny. But ultimately, as Joe Small, one of the Fifty, realized after the trial (summarized by Sheinkin):"The defense lawyers were all naval officers - they weren’t going to bring out details that would be embarrassing to the Navy. And even if they’d wanted to, the judges wouldn’t have let them.”But the fact remained that many of the so-called mutineers were not capable of working with the munitions, and not for reasons of “mental inadequacy,” as came out at the trial. One sailor, who weighed just 104 pounds, said he was specifically told by a Navy doctor he wasn’t strong enough. Another suffered dizzy spells and also been declared unfit for loading. One still had a fractured wrist from the explosion. One mentioned that because the officers were racing for money, he was afraid another explosion would happen. Another testified that the prosecutor threatened that if he didn’t “come clean” about a conspiracy, he would be shot. (Thurgood Marshall released a statement charging that the prosecutor was prejudiced and that it was impossible for the sailors to get a fair trial.) And so on.It was all to no avail. All fifty men were found guilty of mutiny. (Decades after the trial, the defense attorney revealed that he had overhead Rear Admiral Hugh Osterhaus of the court say, while the trial was still in progress, “We’re going to find them guilty.”) All fifty sentences were identical: fifteen years of hard labor in prison, and a dishonorable discharge from the Navy. A few of the younger sailors had some years knocked off of the sentences. Thurgood Marshall didn’t give up, writing directly to the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, arguing about the absurdity of the court’s proceedings and findings. Behind the scenes, Navy lawyers agreed with Marshall.Meanwhile, the abuses of black soldiers both on and off bases continued. The Navy finally decided that segregation was actually hampering the war effort, and instituted gradual integration. But there was no diminution in the sentences of the Port Chicago men. In May 1945, Secretary Forrestal’s office told Admiral Wright the court had made a mistake and the judges needed to reconsider their decision. The judges, however, voted to uphold all fifty convictions and prison sentences, claiming:"The trials were conducted fairly and impartially.”After the war was over, the public wouldn’t let go of the case, and even Eleanor Roosevelt got involved. Forrestal would not admit the Navy made a mistake, but wanted to make the case go away. In January, 1946, he ordered the Port Chicago prisoners transferred to a Navy ship and returned to active duty for service at sea (not, however, changing their status from “convicted mutineers”).The Fifty had to deal with prejudice on the ship, and Joe Small was forced to duke it out with one Alabama boy, Alex, who eventually became his close friend. When Small later asked Alex what it was that caused him to change his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied:"I found out something. … A man is a man.”An Epilogue gives a brief recounting of Civil Rights advances following the events at Port Chicago, and extensive source notes. Throughout the text, there are many photos of both the people and documents described in the book.Evaluation: History doesn’t get much better or more readable than this. The author has done an outstanding job reporting an occurrence about which every American should be aware.

  • Janelle Fila
    2019-04-26 01:31

    The Port Chicago 50 is the story of 50 African-American men accused of mutiny by the Navy during World War II. Prior to the Civil Rights movement, these men pioneered the desegregation of the military, demanding safe working conditions for African-American soldiers. At the time, African-American were the only soldiers given the menial but dangerous job of loading live bombs onto Navy ships headed to war. Not allowed at sea themselves, these men were pushed to load ammunition faster, with no training on weapons safety or potential hazards. When an explosion erupted at the pier, the Port Chicago 50 refused to return to work and risk their lives until the Navy adopted universal safety measures. In response, the Navy court-martialed the Port Chicago 50 for mutiny. The Navy’s punishment for a mutiny conviction during wartime was death. What surprised me about this story was the fact that I’d never heard it before. In school we’re taught about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. I read The Butler and voted in 2008 for the change promised by now President Obama. I rooted for Morgan Freeman when he played an African-American soldier in the Civil War movie Glory. But I didn’t realize the real segregation in our Armed Forces during World War II, some eighty years later. I never stopped to consider the hatred, racism, and bigotry American soldiers experienced at the hands of other white American soldiers. One of the chapters that struck me the hardest was when a group of African-American soldiers got stuck overnight in the South. Even in uniform they couldn’t find a place to sleep and were only promised food at a restaurant if they would go around back and eat in the alley. However, a group of prisoners of war were also stuck overnight in the same town, and they were welcomed into the restaurant, given as much food and drink as they wanted. While the prisoners may have been German, they weren’t black. The Port Chicago 50 was an excellent read, geared for anyone interested in WWII history or the Civil Rights Movement. A non-fiction book for young adults, it is a thin, easy read with short chapters and a fairly fast moving pace (much easier to relate to than a typical WWII monstrosity like The Monument’s Men). The Port Chicago 50 is a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature category, which was the reason that I picked the book up to read to begin with. And I’m so glad I did. I love entertaining, educational stories that make you think. I will continue thinking about this story for a long time. This review first appeared at

  • ConnieKuntz
    2019-05-18 23:49

    I had grabbed the book because I saw the word "Chicago" in the title. I thought it was going to be about the city of Chicago. It's not. The Port Chicago 50 is about the brave black men at a naval base near San Francisco in the early 1940's. It follows the "mutiny" of 50 brave black navy soldiers who refused to load ammunition after a deadly explosion. I read this with the kids. It's a great book that helped the kids (and me) understand (more fully) the following events and people:Pearl Harbor, (Japan attacks US in Hawaill) Thurgood Marshall, (black lawyer with a local middle school named after him) the NAACP, (called when blacks were/are mistreated)Prison Barge (where Small's "followers" were imprisoned; eventually the 50 referred to in the title) WWII (the "world" nature of WWII is what undermined the efforts of Small and Marshall)Eleanor Roosevelt (married to FDR and an activist for black rights)If you think this sounds like a dry history book, it's not. It's filled with emotion and colorful language and outrage. I don't read out loud with all of the kids (together) as much as I used to now that they are older, so it was a joy for me to get to do so with this book. I enjoy discussing racism and politics and the government with the kids,so this was a real treat of a book. I also delighted as they delighted in the fact that this book includes the word "motherfucker" and the expression "by the balls." It does get a little tedious in the courtroom scenes because of the repetitive nature of the defense and prosecution. There is no way around it. Even though it's tedious writing, it is important writing because it helped my kids understand how unfair and maddening the legal system/politics can be, especially if you are poor or black. There are great black and white pictures from Port Chicago, too. The pictures proved very helpful in learning and memorizing the history. Though this book is a depiction of how unfair and disgusting our country treats black people, it is an important book to read. Signed,By the balls, by the ass, by the tail

  • Barbara
    2019-05-03 01:38

    World War II seemed to offer opportunities for advancement for many African-Americans. But the promise remained simply that--a promise--as military units remained segregated, and many black sailors were given the jobs no one else wanted. This book, another fascinating plunge into a little-known aspect of history by the detail-minded Steve Sheinkin, tells the story of what happened at Port Chicago in 1944. Because the men who were handling explosives for the Navy at its base in the San Francisco Bay were not given any training in the proper way to handle them, it was only a matter of time before an accident would happen. More than 300 servicemen were killed and several injured during an explosion. When the Navy insisted that the black sailors who had survived must return to their duty, eventually 50 of them refused. They were arrested for mutiny, and their names were never cleared. As Sheinkin tells it, men such as Joe Small had every right to question the Navy's practice and to refuse to put their lives at risk once again. As readers examine the passages describing the court case against the men, they will surely shake their heads once again at the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. This story is hard to believe and will hold readers captive all the way to its conclusion. This book is an excellent introduction to the importance of duty vs. individuality and will provide plenty of discussion material.

  • Reading is my Escape
    2019-05-09 23:41

    Port Chicago 50   This book tells the true story of segregation in the Navy during World War II. African Americans who joined the Navy to serve their country were not allowed to serve on ships. People thought they weren't smart or brave enough. But only the black men were given the job of loading ammunition onto the ships. This was a dangerous job and the men weren't even give the proper training. The officers bet on their crews to see who could load the fastest. Inevitably, an explosion occurred and many men were inured or killed. When the African American sailors decided they would not load ammunition unless conditions changed, they were charged with mutiny and told they could be shot. This book is part of my son's 8th grade English curriculum, so I decided to read the book along with him. I wasn't even aware of this story and I'm glad that I had the chance to read it.  The author does a good job of describing the events that led up to the explosion and the actions of the sailors and the Navy afterwards. It is a bit dry at times, but it's a nonfiction story, so what do you expect. My son found it boring, but then again, he is not a fan of history or even reading (except for graphic novels or spy type stories). This is a great book for schools to use in English or History classes.

  • Alicia
    2019-05-02 03:36

    The topic is interesting enough because it's a little-discussed piece of history. Black men in the NAVY are assigned to loading ammunition and explosives at the Port Chicago in California with little training because that was one of only very few options they had in the NAVY. As expected, the explosives explode and take out several hundred people and leave several hundred more injured by flying glass, metal, etc. Once all was said and done, fifty of the seamen decided that they would not comply with orders to return to the docks because it was unsafe and they had little training. This was a moment of conscience that then became an accusation of mutiny and led to the court-martial of these fifty black soldiers, who because of racial tensions, were convicted. The injustice is the highlight of the story since to this day all of the men (now deceased) are still mutineers because a Presidential pardon would only "excuse" the behavior, not exonerate them, which is what they, and many people including Thurgood Marshall, NAACP advocate/lawyer, wanted. The book told the story well enough, I just wish there was a bit more pizzazz in the writing and depth to those involved. I didn't feel like I was there or feeling exactly what they were feeling at the time when it came to the injustices of serving in the military, yet having to use separate facilities, stores, and not being able to get a beer at a bar.

  • Jennifer Mangler
    2019-04-27 02:51

    Once again, as a student of history, I'm surprised to learn of an important chapter I had never heard about before. Why? This is the kind of book that makes me angry and proud at the same time: angry at the injustice suffered by so many for so long; proud of the people who were brave enough to stand up for themselves despite the costs. They are what I love about America, and they are the reason our country is as good as it is. "All men are created equal" is an ideal we have failed to live up to, but people like the "mutineers" (I've got to put air quotes there, because they're NOT mutineers) have stood up and demanded that we do. They have made our country better and stronger. One of the "mutineers" put it beautifully: "Everything we've gotten, we've fought and suffered for. You gotta holler loud, you know."Holler loud. What great words of wisdom.

  • Kristine
    2019-05-07 02:41

    I am so glad I took the time to read this book. So many unsung heroes in the civil rights movement. This was well written and researched, but just doesn't have quite enough oomph for that 5th star, like I have his other book, Bomb. My favorite quote: It was frustrating work, but Marshall cautioned fellow African Americans against turning bitter or losing hope. as rough as things were in the United States, he argued, they'd be a lot worse under the dictators America was fighting in World War II. The challenge ahead, as marshal saw it, was to help when the war and to continue pressuring the country to confront segregation.

  • Tanya
    2019-05-06 01:56

    Spellbinding true story of an important chapter in the racial struggle in the United States. I had no idea that the Navy was the first branch of the military to integrate. Thanks to these men who had the courage to stand up for themselves. Well written.

  • Angela
    2019-05-15 22:47

    This is eligible for my Printz year, so I'm not going to review or rate it here.

  • Alex Baugh
    2019-05-17 02:31

    When the United States went to war in 1941, a lot of people immediately signed up to serve their country. After all, they were Americans and their country was now in peril. And so millions of Americans went to war to fight to defend the freedoms they enjoyed so much. African Americans signed up to defend their country as well, but things weren't quite the same for them. Instead of receiving the honor and respect they deserved, African Americans faced the same discrimination and segregation in the armed forces that they had lived with in civilian life. And, naturally, they were given the lowest jobs available. In the Navy, that usually meant serving in the mess as a cook or being on permanent clean up detail.But in 1943, the Navy sent a group of African Americans to Port Chicago in northern California. There, they loaded huge cargoes of ammunition onto waiting ships. The men immediately noticed that only African Americans were doing this potentially dangerous job, although they had to be supervised by white Naval officers, since the Navy didn't have an black officers.Then, on July 17, 1944 at 10:18 PM, as a second shift of men were loading the ammunition, an explosion occurred that was felt for miles around and which killed 320 men instantly. Among that number were 202 African Americans. At first, everyone thought the explosion was an enemy attack, but they soon realized what had happened.A few weeks after being moved to another port, the surviving men were ordered back to loading ammunition. Afraid of what had happened to their friends at Port Chicago, 258 African American sailors refused to obey the order. In fact, they were willing to obey any other order, but that one. After being told to pack their gear, they were crowded onto a prison barge. Eventually, most of the men would return to their jobs. In the end, 50 sailors would be charged with mutiny and court marshaled. And in the trial that followed, they would be found guilty, even though it was clear that the trial was biased, the judge taking the word of the white officers over that of the black sailors.NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall watched the trial closely and when the guilty verdict was announced, immediately started preparing an appeal. And though the appeal was not successful, the 50 sailors were eventually returned to active service, though they carried the stigma of mutiny throughout their lives. And yet, Steven Sheinkin contends, these 50 sailors did more for changing the civil rights of African Americans serving their country than they are given credit for, eventually helping to remove the practice of discrimination and segregation in ALL branches of the armed services.Sheinkin has done it again. First with Bomb: the Race to Build - and Steal - the World's Most Dangerous Weapon, now with The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights. The moment I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. Sheinkin has once again written an exciting nonfiction narrative about a little know part of American history. In The Port Chicago 50, he brings to life many of the men involved, especially Joe Small, whom the Navy considered to be the ringleader of the mutiny. You will meet other unforgettable men in this book, some heroic, some a bit scoundrelly. But they will all rivet you to their story.As with all good nonfiction, there are plenty of photographs throughout the book, along with the names of each of the 50 sailors listed in the front matter. Back matter includes extensive source notes, as well as works cited, a list of oral histories and documentaries used and the records of the U.S. Navy regarding the Port Chicago explosion and subsequent trial. The Port Chicago 50 is a well written, well documented addition to the history of African Americans, their history of the Navy and the history of Civil Rights and a book not to be missed.This book is recommended for readers age 12+This book was borrowed from the NYPLThis review was originally posted at The Children's War

  • Richie Partington
    2019-05-14 20:50

    Richie's Picks: THE PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY, AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Steve Sheinkin, Roaring Brook, January 2014, 208p., ISBN: 978-1-59643-796-8At the conclusion of THE PORT CHICAGO 50, author Steve Sheinkin points out that the fifty defendants in this racist miscarriage of military justice are all now deceased, and so it is too late to fully remedy what was done to them. Nevertheless, as the author notes, there are people who know the story who are still seeking to exonerate the names of these men.Taking Sheinkin’s point as an opportunity to make a difference, I decided to write to First Lady Michelle Obama. I am hoping that she will both encourage her daughters to read this exceptional story and encourage her husband to take steps to clear the names of these fifty black soldiers whose actions played a role in jumpstarting the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.I likewise encourage you to read THE PORT CHICAGO 50, to share it with young people, and to send your own email messages to Mrs. Obama via the site.Dear Mrs. Obama:Perhaps back in one your African American studies classes at Princeton, you learned something about the Port Chicago 50. Perhaps you didn't. I am a huge fan and student of American history, but I had never heard this story involving segregated black naval units, stationed here in the San Francisco Bay area at Port Chicago during WWII, assigned to load bombs onto ships. I do know all about these men now, thanks to the recently-published book for young people, THE PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY, AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Steve Sheinkin. Mr. Sheinkin, has come to be one of my favorite storytellers of American history for young people and has been winning quite a few awards along the way for his well-researched books. I enthusiastically recommend that you read this book and share it with your daughters.We learn that the white officers who commanded the black units who were carrying out this extremely dangerous work made a horse race out of the work by placing bets on how many tons of bombs the various divisions could load onto the ships. The officers then pressured the divisions to work even faster. This cavalier attitude toward safety and the expendability of black soldiers led to a tragedy in 1944 in which 320 men were killed in a massive explosion felt 30 miles away in Berkeley. In response, despite threats of being shot for disobedience, fifty brave servicemen in the segregated units refused to resume loading bombs under these oppressive conditions. The farce of a military proceeding that followed found them all guilty of treason and sentenced them to hard labor. While Thurgood Marshall’s efforts eventually resulted in a mitigation of the sentences, the records of these fifty men have never been cleared.Having grown up watching news of the Civil Rights Movement unfold, I found your husband’s election to be a powerful and fulfilling experience. Yet I keep learning about the unfinished business in our nation’s history. The story of the Port Chicago 50, which preceded our lifetimes and yet contributed to the movement that was so important in our own era, has a final chapter waiting to be written: exonerating the names of these servicemen.It would be so perfect if these victims of racism were posthumously vindicated by our nation's first black president. I am therefore hoping that you might read Mr. Sheinkin's book and help write this final chapter.Best wishes,Richie PartingtonRichie Partington, MLISRichie's Pickshttp://[email protected]://

  • Barb Middleton
    2019-05-07 02:38

    Steve Sheinkin is one of my favorite historical writers. His narrative nonfiction writing has the drama and characters found in any fiction novel, with spot-on pacing, and meticulous research. Don't miss this one. Set during World War II, the Navy has changed policies so that blacks can enlist, but this does not mean equality. Instead, Sheinkin reveals the institutionalized racism in American society, military, and government showing how a small group of fifty men, out of fear, were one of the players in changing attitudes toward African Americans.In July 1944, an explosion so huge it was mistaken for an earthquake happened at Port Chicago, as sailors were loading munitions on ships. Over 200 black men and 100 white men died at the pier. Only African Americans were assigned to load munitions and after the explosion hundreds tried to voice their fears regarding the dangerous job. No one listened. Unsafe conditions continued and Sheinkin shows how the African Americans were exploited by the Navy. As the men were being marched to load ammunition on another ship after the explosion that killed over 300 men, hundreds refused to go. But when they Navy threatened to charge them with mutiny and shoot them, only fifty were brave enough to continue to take a stand. A court trial ensued showing the deep prejudices that were prevalent at the time. The courtroom drama and the lawyers building their cases captures the legal processes. Not all of the text is heavy. Sheinkin balances some light moments. The ending has a funny story of how a black sailor made best friends with a white sailor by fighting him. The fight ended up with them both respecting each other and the white sailor saying he learned that "a man is a man" regardless of skin color. Other interesting asides were Eleanor Roosevelt following the case and putting pressure on the Navy officer who could change things and Thurgood Marshall working on behalf of the men in the early stages of his famous career.History shows that at times when an injustice occurs on the magnitude of the conviction of the Port Chicago sailors, people find the courage to stand up and protest the mockery of it. While these young sailors, many teenagers, didn't realize the significance they would have on history at the time in changing the plight of African Americans, they did not regret their actions as old men as the Epilogue explains. It also shows when the justice system fails to protect basic rights. While this book isn't as complex as "Bomb," it is just as compelling and will reach a younger audience. The primary photographs, graphics, oral histories, documentaries, and Navy documents make it an impressive work. Men stood up for what was wrong at great personal risk. This story is worth noting.

  • Angie
    2019-05-17 00:53

    Segregation and racism were alive and well during WWII. That didn't stop thousands of young black men from joining the military to fight for their country. Almost all of these men were assigned menial jobs and deemed not fit for combat. In the Navy, that meant stateside duties instead of serving on ships. This book is about the group of men who loaded ammunition onto war ships at Port Chicago. They were all black with white officers. The men had no training in munitions or ship loading. The conditions were dangerous and that danger caught up to the port one evening. On July 17, 1944 the port exploded killing over 300 soldiers. It destroyed two ships and the entire port. Every man in the port area died. Those on the base that survived were not very happy about going back to work after the disaster. This is the story of the 50 men who refused to load ammunition again. They were charged with mutiny and went on trial. The trial found them all guilty of mutiny even though it didn't seem like their actions fit the definition of mutiny. There were even men charged who refused to load munitions because they weren't capable and had never loaded before: a cook, an injured man, an underweight man. Didn't seem like it mattered why they refused the order they were still charged. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP became involved in the case and tried to get the charges dropped on the basis of racism, but were unsuccessful. Even though this case made the Navy rethink its segregation policies and eventually led to the integration of the Navy, the men's records were never cleared of the charges. It is a sad part of our history and one Sheinkin did a fabulous job covering. Highly readable with lots of interesting information.

  • Nicki
    2019-05-04 20:53

    The Port Chicago 50 is the story of 50 African American Navy men who were put on trial for mutiny when they refused to return to work after an explosion destroyed the dock they worked on and killed hundreds of men. When they found out that they were being sent to another port to do the same exact work, load ammunition, without training, they feared for their lives. The explosion isn't a well known event because it happened during WWII and it was a story that the Navy tried to make disappear from the public eye. The case, though unfair, had a lot to do with the Navy changing it's policies on African American men serving alongside white men.The author includes a lot of details about the racism the African American soldiers faced both on and off base. It was surprising to read, even in a time of war, that African American men volunteering to serve our country were treated so poorly. Many of the officers talked about the lack of mental capacity being the main reason why African American soldiers were not given job training. And when the author talks about the case and says the verdict, I actually gasped out loud because it was just so ridiculous. This is a pretty easy story to read and I think it would be appealing to not only teens interested in history or civil rights, but any teen interested in reading a story about injustice and facing those who are against you with your head held high.

  • Miriam
    2019-05-02 00:41

    Here is the story of a grave injustice and it is an injustice that has been left to stand, so I finished the book with an unhappy, bitter taste in my mouth. Sheinkin's research is deep (and nicely-sourced in the end matter) and the text is filled with the actual words of several of the 50 men found guilty of mutiny because they refused to load munitions in an environment devoid of safety precautions and regard for human life during WWII. The men were justifiably in fear of their lives, having been in close proximity to an enormous explosion of munitions-laden boxcars and a Navy ship at the port where they were stationed. Hundreds were killed in the accident and several of the men accused of mutiny had been injured themselves from the flying debris. (It was so powerful an explosion that it was even rumored to have been a nuclear test.) Though their sentences were reduced after a review, their convictions have never been overturned. Their military service in the Navy, their trial and the lack of appropriate resolution were all pervaded by the prevailing racist attitudes toward their abilities and intellect. Even Thurgood Marshall, in his days as the most successful civil rights lawyer in the US, could not successfully appeal their cases. It made me angry to read about these men and it makes me sad that they have all passed away without having been exonerated.

  • Julia Erlanger
    2019-05-23 01:54

    I grew up literally a few hours from this base and never heard this story. Ever. The fact that so many pre-Civil Rights era stories are surfacing about people involved in similar struggles (I'm thinking Claudette Colvin and the 555th Parachute Infantry Batallion) makes this book timely as well as historically important. The prose is written appropriately for children and explains context and adult situations (like social implications of microaggressions and the significance of lawyers making a point despite having to withdraw a question), which makes reading this book both easier for young readers and also collaterally educational in other aspects of history or culture.It's obvious why this author has won a Sibert before. This book of nonfiction is a quick read for an adult but is full of foreshadowing and suspense that makes you want to find out what happens, and is mostly told from first person oral histories that a researcher from the 1970s collected and shared with the author. Very well cited in the back, including source notes, photo credits, extensive works cited, and acknowledgements. This is a finalist for the Mock Newbery my library staff is doing; I'll be interested to see how far this book gets, and how many "This is a Sibert instead" moments we have. Either way, it was excellent and I recommend it.

  • Jo
    2019-05-25 22:57

    During World War II, when the Navy was segregated, many black sailors were assigned the duty of loading bombs onto ships at Port Chicago. An explosion on July 17, 1944 killed 320 men at Port Chicago. Although the cause was unknown, it is possible that lack of education for the sailors about how to handle the bombs, as well as pressure to hurry from the officers (all of them white) may have contributed to the incident. When ordered to return to work under the same conditions, 50 sailors refused to go and were tried for mutiny.This is the type of true story that makes your blood boil because of the injustice of it all. I appreciated that Sheinkin allowed the story to speak for itself, using sources such as interviews with the sailors, and the transcript from the trial. I thought this book was excellent, although I prefer Sheinkin’s style in Bomb, his previous book, a bit more. When I read this one, it sounded more like a documentary in my head, whereas Bomb seemed to have more of a story feel, with a lot of building tension. I did enjoy the many photos in this book, an element that was not so present in Bomb. Both books are top notch, and I hope Sheinkin continues to write books for young adult readers!

  • David Quinn
    2019-05-20 23:42

    For adult readers this book is on the slightly superficial, one-dimensional side. But it's geared towards middle school readers and for that crowd I would rate this a solid 4 and recommend it as very good introduction to adult nonfiction.The story here revolves around a WWII U.S. Navy civil rights problem which was previously unknown to me. The story itself is good and the book is fast paced, uncomplicated and highly readable. Some parts were a bit choppy as it seemed to me the author was trying to keep the story simple and avoided heavy segues in favor of pace. (I'm thinking of the sections involving Thurgood Marshall who is a giant historical figure but whose presence here needed to be enhanced or removed.)Sheinkin's book "Bomb" was far better (for both adult and middle school readers) as it had greater depth and offered multiple (and very good) storylines.I'd give this a solid recommend to middle school readers and a cautious recommend to adult readers. (For adult readers looking for a quick, straightforward book I would say this is worth your time.)

  • Ms. Yingling
    2019-05-06 01:54

    Sheinkin has a good eye for picking interesting topics for nonfiction, and his research is tireless. The primary source documents and photos bring this story of segregation and prejudice during World War II a startling immediacy. Background information about the role of black soldiers in conflicts before and after WWII puts this in perspective, as do the late life updates about some of the individuals involved. That said, this struck me (as much of Sheinkin's work does) as almost too complete for middle schools. There is so much information about the intricacies of the trial and the back and forth of details that I got a bit weary of it. I love to get my students interested in nonfiction, and I have one boy in particular who loves to read about Civil Rights issues, but I don't see him getting through this entire book. I will buy it anyway, because it is a good addition to my collection, but I am afraid it will be used more for research than for pleasure reading. High school students probably would understand this better and be able to read the entire book.

  • Aditya Deshpande
    2019-04-27 20:41

    Port Chicago 50 is a display of racial discrimination. The story is about the struggle for blacks trying to earn positions in the navy. Overall a beautiful book and I would recommend this book to everyone who wants to learn about the racial struggles blacks face to this day.