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August 14, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


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Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial
Contact: Diana McDaniel
www.friendsofportchicago.org
(510) 301-2135

BROAD COALITION URGES OBAMA


EXONERATE PT. CHICAGO SAILORS
San Leandro, CA, Aug. 14, 2015 -- A broad coalition of veterans, religious, civil rights and
political groups is calling on President Barack Obama to use his executive powers to exonerate
the 50 black sailors convicted of mutiny 71 years ago following the explosion at the Port
Chicago Naval Magazine.
The diverse coalition is seeking justice for the men whose conviction and imprisonment
following the disaster the worst lost of life on the Homefront during World War II helped
pave the way for the desegregation of the military by President Truman.
The signatories note the Presidents broad powers to exonerate those accused unjustly,
and pointed to his recent decisions to grant of clemency, as well as other actions to reverse past
military convictions in which race played a significant role, as it did at Port Chicago. We plead
for your intervention to provide justice to the 50 black sailors, justice that was denied them in
1944 and in the 70+ years since that tragedy, the letter reads.
One year ago, on the 70th anniversary of the tragedy, the President sent a letter to those
who gather annually to commemorate the loss of 320 lives in the explosion which destroyed the
naval facility and the surrounding town on July 17, 1944. African-American service members
at Port Chicago and at posts around the world defended America with valor and distinction, even
when their country did not treat them with the dignity and respect they deserved, Obama wrote.
Faced with tremendous obstacles, they fought on two fronts for freedom abroad and equality
at home.
Port Chicago, like most military bases and units, was segregated during World War II,
with black sailors alone employed in the dangerous job of loading munitions onto ships under the
supervision of white officers. Following the tragedy, black sailors were ordered to resume the
loading of ships despite the ongoing investigation into the cause of the explosion, and without
the training they and others had warned was needed. Fifty sailors ultimately refused to resume
loading and were tried and convicted. Their unsuccessful appeal was handled by future Supreme
Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who served as counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
In the early 1990s, Congress designated the site of the explosion a National Memorial,
and it was added to the National Park system in 2009. An effort by former Congressman George
Miller (D-CA) during the 1990s resulted in a pardon for one of the few surviving sailors
convicted of mutiny, Freddie Meeks. Miller has called the convictions a miscarriage of justice
based on the racism of the time.

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President Obama has already recognized the significance of Port Chicago in the history
of World War II and the civil rights movement, said Rev. Diana McDaniel, president of the
Friends of the Port Chicago Memorial which organized the letter. Now he can use his powers
as President to help right the legal record by counteracting an unjust prosecution and conviction
which would never have occurred but for their race. We respectfully ask that he examine the
merits of our request, and that he help the Port Chicago 50, and their families, find justice after
all these years.
Additional information about Port Chicago can be found at the Friends website,
http://portchicagomemorial.org/, and at the National Park Services site for the Memorial,
http://www.nps.gov/poch/index.htm.
The letter and signatories follow:

Hon. Barack Obama


President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
As members of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Port Chicago National Memorial, we
are appealing to you to exercise your power as President of the United States to remove the
unjust and racially tainted convictions of 50 members of the U.S. Navy who were found guilty of
mutiny following the devastating explosion of July 17, 1944.
As President, you signed legislation incorporating the Memorial into the National Park System.
A year ago, to help commemorate the 70th anniversary of the disaster the largest Home Front
loss of life during World War II you joined Members of Congress, family members, survivors
and others in recognizing the sacrifice of those who served and died at Port Chicago Naval
Magazine.
As you wrote at that time
African-American service members at Port Chicago and at Posts around
the world defended America with valor and distinction, even when their
country did not treat them with the dignity and respect they deserved.
Faced with tremendous obstacles, they fought on two fronts for freedom
abroad and equality at home.
The men on whose behalf we write today did not perish in the explosion, as did hundreds of their
friends and fellow sailors, but they endured blatant discrimination, unjust imprisonment and a

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loss in benefits as a result of unwarranted prosecution that was, in the words of Congressman
George Miller, a miscarriage of justice based on the racism of the time.
Nearly a quarter century ago, an Act of Congress was required to compel the Navy Board of
Review to review the convictions of the 50 sailors. Even though the Secretary of the Navy in
1994 admitted that racial prejudice affected the operations at Port Chicago, including the
assignment of only untrained black sailors to the dangerous munitions loading operations, the
Navy refused to reverse the courts decision.
Subsequently, President Bill Clinton, responding to an application through the Pardon Attorney,
granted a pardon in 1999 to Freddie Meeks of Los Angeles, one of only a few of the convicted
sailors remaining alive at that time. As a practical matter, we recognize the difficulty of
gathering all of the documentation on the remaining 49 men that would be necessary to meet the
standards required by the regular pardon process. In any event, we note that under the
1915 Burdick v. United States decision, acceptance of a pardon carries an imputation of guilt,
acceptance, a confession of the commission of a crime, which we believe is an unjust burden to
require of the Port Chicago sailors.
The very substantial record that has been developed by scholars, lawyers and others over the past
two decades provides more than adequate evidence that the unprecedented mutiny trial of the
Port Chicago survivors was based upon, and characterized by pervasive racism. Even at the
time, Thurgood Marshall, who was deeply involved in the case in his capacity as counsel for the
NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, recognized the prejudicial
nature of the prosecution and convictions. In addition, in the intervening years, action has been
taken to exonerate other black Americans against whom military prosecution was determined to
have been racially influenced, including Henry Flipper and the Fort Lawton 28.
As President, you possess a wide range of options for providing the Port Chicago 50 with the
justice free from racial prejudice that they never received. Indeed, we note your past use of your
commutation power, which you described as "an important first step toward restoring
fundamental ideals of justice and fairness."
We respectfully request that you utilize all of the options available to you as President to set
aside the unjust mutiny convictions of the Port Chicago 50. In particular, we request that you
explore all appropriate Executive remedies that would remove the unfair convictions from the
military records of these sailors, and give comfort to their descendants and many more who are
committed to telling the story and teaching the lessons of Port Chicago. Most importantly, we
plead for your intervention to provide justice to the 50 black sailors, justice that was denied them
in 1944 and in the 70+ years since that tragedy.
The Friends of the Port Chicago National Memorial is prepared to assist you and your staff in the
review of the historical, legal and archival materials to assist you in considering such an
initiative. In addition we have included along with this letter a copy of the legal brief that was
used in 1999 in the application presented to President Clinton on behalf of Mr. Meeks. We thank

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you for your past support for the memory of those who sacrificed their lives at Port Chicago
Naval Magazine, and we request your continued attention to the need for restorative justice for
those loyal and brave Americans who survived.
Sincerely,
Friends of Port Chicago Board of Directors
The Reverend Diana McDaniel, President
Robert Allen, Ph.D., Secretary,
David Salniker, L.L.M.,Treasurer
John A. Lawrence, Ph.D, Retired Chief of Staff for Hon. Nancy Pelosi & Hon. George Miller
Marc Bruner, Esq.
Zoe Polk, Esq.
Camarin Madigan, Esq., General Counsel

This letter is endorsed by:


The Honorable George Miller, retired Congressman of the 11th Congressional District, California
ACLU
Robert L. Allen, Ph.D., author of The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny
Trial in U.S. Naval History
Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center
East Bay Regional Park District
Equal Justice Society
Sandra Evers-Manly, President, Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center and
Founder Port Chicago Survivors and Family Members Support Group
Michael Harris, Senior Attorney, National Center for Youth Law
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the SF Bay Area
National Park Conservation Association
San Francisco Veterans Affairs Commission
San Francisco Human Rights Commission
San Francisco Board of Supervisors
Spencer Sikes II, son of survivor of explosion
Steve Sheinkin, author of The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights