Monday, March 2, 2015
NONFICTION MONDAY: Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
ABOUT THE BOOK
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 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.
Despite the great reviews I've read of this book, I've put off reading it because I knew the event it discussed would in all likelihood make me angry. And I was right. The way these men were treated is appalling. I'm not sure refusing orders was the right way to go, but on the other hand, no one, not even the black sailors own commanding officers listened to their concerns. What choice did these men have left. Frankly, it left me feeling a bit ill to read about how these men who had volunteered to defend their country were treated in the name of 'tradition' and 'that's how it's always been done'.
It took courage and determination for the 'Port Chicago 50' to carry on when many of the original protesters gave in under the pressure. It would be great to say that their courage won the day, but the prejudice won out. And yet, I don't think I would say that it was a complete failure either. It brought much needed attention to something the military refused to acknowledge. This is an important story told in a straight-forward interesting way. Once again Sheinkin has created a winner that young adults are bound to devour.