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The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

Review

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights

Steve Sheinkin’s reputation as a writer of nonfiction for young readers exploded with the publication of BOMB: THE RACE TO BUILD – AND STEAL – THE WORLD’S MOST DANGEROUS WEAPON in 2012. BOMB was selected as a Newbery Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist; it also won a Robert F. Sibert Award. BOMB gained so much attention because of its interesting, and little known, story, but more importantly, Sheinkin’s narrative writing style was easy to understand and compelling to read --- for young readers and adult readers alike. He uses this same formula in THE PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY, AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS; he shares information about a little known historical event in a captivating storytelling style. And, like BOMB, I have no doubt that THE PORT CHICAGO 50 will receive lots of attention and awards.

Sheinkin came across the information that later formed THE PORT CHICAGO 50 during his research for BOMB and he knew that he would need to return to this historical event and tell the stories of those involved. During WWII, most of the military was still strictly segregated and the navy was no different. African-American sailors could only serve as mess attendants on naval ships. There were “more” opportunities for African-American sailors on land, but these opportunities remained segregated and prevented the soldiers for fighting for their country in combat.

He shares information about a little known historical event in a captivating storytelling style....like BOMB, I have no doubt that THE PORT CHICAGO 50 will receive lots of attention and awards

Hundreds of African-American sailors were stationed at Port Chicago in California. Their job was to load ammunition on the ships. Every day, they dealt with tons of dangerous explosives and ammunition with very little training in the proper handling of these materials. On July 17, 1944, one could say that the inevitable happened --- there was a massive explosion at Port Chicago that killed more than 300 sailors. The damage was so bad that a full investigation was impossible. It could only be assumed that the mishandling of these highly reactive materials caused the explosion.

The men working at Port Chicago had been unhappy with their lack of training and this terrible accident reinforced the need for improved preparation. When told to return to work, many refused until there was improved training and procedures. Many who initially refused to return to work were coerced into doing so, but 50 men remained steadfast --- they became known as the Port Chicago 50. As everyone that handled these deadly materials was African American, this refusal quickly became a civil rights issue. The continued segregation of the Navy was also taken up by the Port Chicago 50 and those that supported their stand.

The contributions of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King to the civil rights movement are well known, but there were many who fought for their civil rights and the rights of others, and these heroes need to be acknowledged to the same extent as all of the well-known civil rights leaders. THE PORT CHICAGO 50 contributes to the civil rights literature and does so in a way that will bring the Port Chicago 50 the recognition they deserve.

Sheinkin has a true gift for revealing and sharing historical events that not only allow us to learn more about our past, but to better understand our present. Although Sheinkin’s targeted audience is 5th to 9th graders, he writes in such a way to make his books accessible to a much larger spectrum of readers and audiences. I think that readers of all ages will devour THE PORT CHICAGO 50. I truly believe that as Sheinkin continues writing nonfiction, he will change our world as we know it. And I can think of no better change-maker.

Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on January 17, 2014

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
by Steve Sheinkin

  • Publication Date: January 3, 2017
  • Genres: Children's Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • ISBN-10: 1250073499
  • ISBN-13: 9781250073495