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

Port Chicago 50Before hearing Steve Sheinkin speak at the 2014 YSS Spring Conference in White Plains, NY, I had never heard of the Port Chicago 50.  When Sheinkin told us about the Port Chicago disaster and then went in to explain how the 50 men who had been too afraid to return to work were charged with mutiny, I was dumbfounded.  I *had* to know more about this story and how it was that the charge of mutiny actually stuck.  I don’t often find non-fiction books so compelling, but I found myself sitting in my driveway after I got home and popping in my ear buds during lunch breaks at work because I just couldn’t tear myself away from this story — especially when I got to the court trial.  It was like I was listening to an episode of Law & Order: Historical Case Files.  (If they end up starting a spin-off show with that title, y’all are my witnesses that I came up with the idea and deserve some royalties!)

I especially appreciated how Steve Sheinkin pointed out the fact that the members of the Port Chicago 50 were early, and largely unsung, heroes in the Civil Rights Movement.  Not only did their plight shine a light on the unfairness of the segregation of duties within the Armed Forces, but their treatment by civilians once they left the base was sometimes atrocious, regardless of the fact that they were putting their lives on the line to fight for their country.  One of the quotes that best summarizes how these men effected change in the people around them actually came as the answer to a question between friends.  When Joe Small (the so-called leader of the Port Chicago 50) asked his friend Alex (a formerly racist Alabaman) what had changed his mind about befriending a black man, Alex replied, “I found out something. A man is a man.”  So simple a statement, yet so profound.

Happy Reading!

 

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