CCCBA Honors Port Chicago Heros from the Deadliest Stateside Disaster of World War II

Group of people who are Port Chicago Service Award recipients for their efforts to exonerate the Port Chicago 50.At the annual installation and awards lunch on January 19, the CCCBA conferred awards on three African-American sailors who served at Port Chicago during World War II. The CCCBA’s Port Chicago Task Force recognized the sailors with Port Chicago Hero Awards, noting their courage in the face of adversity before, during and after the Port Chicago Disaster. Four other awards, Port Chicago Service Awards, were presented to four people who have been dedicated to advocacy on behalf of the sailors who served there during World War II.

The massive explosion on July 17, 1944 killed 320 men and wounded hundreds more. Following the Disaster, the Navy charged fifty men with mutiny when they refused to return to work loading ammunition under dangerous conditions that violated the Navy’s regulations. The trial ended in guilty verdicts against each of the fifty defendants.

In February 2022, the CCCBA formed the Port Chicago Task Force and established two goals: first, to raise awareness of the Port Chicago Disaster, and second, to advocate for the exoneration of the Port Chicago 50, the sailors convicted of mutiny. Two hundred two of those killed and all of the Port Chicago 50 were African-American sailors who served at a time when the Navy was segregated and they were not allowed to serve in any combat units due to their race.

The three Port Chicago Hero Awards went to John B. Felisbret, of New York state, who was “about 17 years old” according to his family when he died in the Disaster. Two members of the Port Chicago 50, Joseph R. Small, Sr., of New Jersey, and Jack P. Crittenden, of Alabama, also received Hero Awards. Both Small and Crittenden were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor confinement, before their sentences were commuted. All three Port Chicago Hero Awards were conferred posthumously.
Members of the Felisbret and Crittenden families participated in the awards ceremony.

The Port Chicago Service Awards went to John Lawrence, who worked diligently on the formation of the Port Chicago Naval Memorial Magazine, at the Concord Naval Weapons Station near Concord California, the National Park Service’s unit at the site of the Disaster; Reverend Diana McDaniel co-founder of the Friends of Port Chicago, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of the site, promotion of the history of the Disaster and the mutiny trials, and the exoneration of the Port Chicago 50; Willie Mims, who has been a community activist in the greater Bay Area, serving in executive leadership roles in the NAACP and other civil rights organizations. Mr. Mims worked at Port Chicago in the 1960s, and in the decades since, he has been advocating for the exoneration of the Port Chicago 50; and Jonathan U. Lee, a Bar Association director who serves as Chair of the Task Force.

The CCCBA Port Chicago Task Force continues to communicate its exoneration arguments to federal, state and local leaders, and the Department of the Navy, in hopes that exoneration will be accomplished by the 80th anniversary of the Disaster on July 17, 2024 which will be recognized with a public ceremony at Thurgood Marshall Regional Park in Concord this summer.

For information on the CCCBA Port Chicago Task Force visit Interested parties are encouraged to sign a petition on to “Exonerate the Port Chicago 50.