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The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights Hardcover – January 21, 2014
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—In the summer of 1944, 50 sailors, all of them African American, were tried and convicted of mutiny by the U.S. Navy. They had refused to follow a direct order of loading dangerous rockets and munitions on ships bound for battle in the Pacific after an enormous explosion had killed more than 300 of their fellow sailors and other civilians working on the dock. At the heart of this story is the rampant racism that permeated the military at all levels, leaving minority sailors and soldiers to do the drudge work almost exclusively while their white counterparts served on the front lines. Through extensive research, Sheinkin effectively re-creates both the tense atmosphere at Port Chicago before and after the disaster as well as the events that led to the men's refusal of this one particular order that they felt put them directly in harm's way. Much of the tension in this account stems from the growing frustration that readers are meant to feel as bigotry and discrimination are encountered at every turn and at every level of the military. There is a wealth of primary-source material here, including interviews with the convicted sailors, court records, photographs, and other documents, all of which come together to tell a story that clearly had a huge impact on race relations in the military. This is a story that remains largely unknown to many Americans, and is one of the many from World War II about segregation and race that is important to explore with students. Abundant black-and-white photos, extensive source notes, and a thorough bibliography are included.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
The award-winning author of Bomb (2012) returns with another compelling American history narrative. This time Sheinkin takes on the Port Chicago 50, a group of African American sailors who were court-martialed and convicted of mutiny when they refused to continue loading ammunition after experiencing a terrifying accidental explosion that destroyed the entire port. Tracing the history of racial discrimination in the U.S. armed forces, Sheinkin describes the U.S. Navy’s long-standing policy of restricting duties for African American servicemen, the unfair treatment the divisions received at the segregated Port Chicago facility, and the dangerous working conditions facing the sailors there, including a lack of training on how to properly handle explosives, and competitions that encouraged reckless practices. Sheinkin’s narrative shines as he recounts the frustrating court-martial trial that resulted in a guilty verdict for all 50 men, which still stands today despite repeated attempts to exonerate the sailors. Photos, reproductions of primary documents, and direct quotes from the sailors themselves flesh-out this account of a little-known piece of civil rights history. Grades 6-9. --Sarah Hunter
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A finalist for YALSA’s 2015 Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award, the book traces the little-known story of 50 African American sailors convicted of mutiny by the U.S. Navy during World War II. Refusing to follow orders to load dangerous explosives onto ships, their story became a rallying cry for those who felt the military’s segregation policies were discriminatory.
Sheinkin brings the story alive through his compelling, well-researched narrative. Woven throughout the story are primary resource materials including historical photos, interviews, and court records. The print and ebook versions contain extensive references and notes that support the narrative.
Middle and high school students often skim works of nonfiction and miss the impact of the narrative. Consider sharing the audiobook version of this story with youth. Dominic Hoffman is a superb storyteller who masterfully switches among a wide range of voices to keep listeners actively engaged in the story.
Many students and teachers who thought they knew about the Civil Rights Movement will be amazed by this gripping, little-known piece of history.
To learn more about the author, go to http://stevesheinkin.com/.
To see a slideshow on historical photos from the book, go to http://us.macmillan.com/theportchicago50/SteveSheinkin.
Watch a short documentary that explores the Great Port Chicago Explosion at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaIphGJt5NU.