The Port Chicago explosion was the deadliest home-front disaster of World War II, and it gave rise to the largest mutiny trial in U.S. naval history, yet it remains unknown to most Americans. In 1944 hundreds of men were killed and injured in the huge blast at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine in California. Most of the casualties were African-American seamen, many in their teens, who were assigned exclusively to loading ammunition.
At a moment in history when dramatic war events were daily front-page news, the explosion and ensuing mutiny trial soon virtually were lost to memory. But they would contribute to major changes in racial policy and practices in the Navy, the U.S. military, and American society.
This article is adapted from the author’s book, The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny Trial in U.S. Naval History (Warner Books, 1989; revised edition, Heyday, 2006).