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Grace Carlson

Pamphlet Bares Navy
Frame-Up of Negroes

(5 May 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 18, 5 May 1945, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Mutiny?, a 16-page pamphlet just published by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, is a powerful indictment of the Jim Crow system of the United States Navy. The cover of this pamphlet is a reproduction of an official Navy photograph, showing Negro sailors loading ammunition. Against this background, the title of the pamphlet takes on added meaning – Mutiny?: The Real Story of How the Navy Branded 50 Fear-Shocked Sailors As Mutineers.

“Remember Port Chicago?” the pamphlet begins, and goes on to give a dramatic recitation of the tragic events of the Port Chicago case. On July 17, 1944 in this little town on San Francisco Bay, “over 320 American sailors were blown to tiny fragments ... in less time than it takes to say ‘Jim Crow’.”

Every one of the 320 casualties was a Negro sailor, who had been loading ammunition. Every one of the commissioned officers who had been charged with the lives and welfare of these men was white.

Eight or nine hundred Negro sailors survived the Port Chicago tragedy – dazed, bewildered, nervous, shocked by the sights, sounds and smells of “the worst home front disaster of the war.” When attempts were made to return them to loading ammunition, hundreds of them rebelled.

Unjustly Punished

Negro sailors were learning “that civilian longshoremen in the Bay Area had, on a number of occasions refused to work on the same ship where Navy personnel were loading ...; that the Longshoremen’s union wouldn’t permit a winch driver to work on ammunition unless he had had years of experience on other loads ...; that the Navy had ignored an offer by these same unions to send experienced longshoremen to train them in the safe handling of explosives.”

Hundreds of these Negro sailors, protesting against the vicious Navy discrimination which consigned only Negroes to the dangerous, dirty work of loading ammunition, were shipped to the South Pacific. Two hundred and fifty seven others were arrested. 50 of these were tried “for conspiracy to mutiny” at the largest mass trial in Naval history.

In the record of the six-week-long trial, as the NAACP pamphlet points out very correctly, there is “not one word of the most important issues of the case ..., not one hint that while these 50 bewildered youngsters sat for six weeks in a courtroom as the ‘accused,’ the real offender was the ‘accuser’ – the Navy.”

Long prison terms was the “justice” meted out to these Negro sailors – half of them under 21 years of age. Ten of the men were sentenced to 15 years in prison; 11 to 10 years; 24 to 12 years; and 5 to 8 years. Through Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel for the NAACP, a brief was filed for all 50 sailors with Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy. This was done at the written request of the sailors themselves.

“The pointless, meaningless deaths of 320 Americans must be given a point, must be given a meaning – for the living” says the NAACP writer in conclusion. “Meaning for the living” lies in militant support of the campaign to free these 50 Negro sailor-victims of Navy Jim Crow – a key case in the fight to end discrimination and segregation in the armed forces.

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