Like Tanya Lee Stone’s “Courage Has No Color” (2013), Steve Sheinkin’s compelling new book provides young readers with some unsettling facts about the treatment of African Americans who enlisted in World War II. But unlike the paratroopers of Stone’s book, the 50 men convicted of mutiny in Sheinkin’s book still await justice. “The Port Chicago 50” tells the story of African Americans who signed up for the Navy, hoping to fight for their country overseas. Hundreds were instead ordered to load bombs and ammunition onto ships at Port Chicago, north of San Francisco, while white officers supervised from the pier. Drawing upon interviews conducted by historian Robert Allen, as well as his own research, Sheinkin makes clear that the servicemen were not adequately prepared for this dangerous work. (The longshoremen’s union in the Bay Area even offered to provide training, but the Navy never responded.) On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion killed 320 men, including the 202 sailors who had been loading ammunition onto two ships. Transferred to another Navy base, the surviving African Americans were understandably reluctant to continue this work under unsafe, unfair conditions. Sheinkin offers a clear summary of the military’s reaction and the court-martial proceedings that followed. He shows how not even the young NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall could reverse the 50 mutiny convictions. After reading Sheinkin’s account, readers will want to see these men exonerated — and honored for their service.
— Abby McGanney Nolan