For Immediate Release / Contact: Daniel Weiss
Representative Miller Introduces Legislation to ActivateMonday, March 11, 2002
Port Chicago's Bid to Become a National Park
WASHINGTON — Building on his 12-year effort on behalf of the hundreds of sailors killed in the deadliest Home Front explosion of World War 11, U.S. Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez) has introduced legislation to authorize the National Park Service to conduct a feasibility study of the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial to determine whether Congress can upgrade the site to a National Park.
The Port Chicago Memorial commemorates a still-unexplained explosion aboard a munitions ship that killed 320 sailors, 202 of whom were black. Fifty black sailors who refused to resume loading hazardous munitions following the disastrous explosion received a courts martial for mutiny — the largest mass mutiny trial in U.S. history.
Since 1990, Miller has led the congressional effort to overturn the convictions of the black sailors based on information indicating that racism played a role in the courts martial. In December 1999, Miller successfully helped Freddie Meeks, one of the sole surviving convicted Port Chicago sailors, obtain a Presidential Pardon from then-President Bill Clinton.
Following the pardon of Freddie Meeks, NBC, the Learning Channel and the History channel ran television programs documenting the explosion, the courts martial of the black sailors, and the efforts of Rep. Miller and others to clear the names of the sailors’ mutiny convictions.
“This memorial is invaluable to our community and to our country,” said Miller. “It provides recognition to those who lost their lives in service to this country and helps our nation move beyond the racially-tinged decisions that surrounded this tragic event in history.”
Miller enacted legislation in 1992 creating the Port Chicago National Memorial at the site of the explosion, now the Concord Naval Weapons Station. A memorial service is held on the site each year with survivors and members of the families of deceased sailors.
“This site is more than a memorial for those who were killed,” said Miller. “It is a piece of American history. The beauty of our national park system is that it creates an opportunity for millions of Americans to gain a greater understanding of America’s unique history. The tragic story of these sailors killed in the Home Front effort of World War II tells not just one important episode of that war but a story of racial segregation and injustice.”
With a National Park designation, the Port Chicago Memorial site would become more competitive for federal funds to upgrade and enhance facilities and education materials and to help pay for the day- to-day maintenance of the site.
“Expanded access, additional staff, and more visual aides, such as displays, photographs, videos, and historical accounts, are needed so that the site can provide park visitors with a more rich, in-depth account of the Port Chicago tragedy,” Miller said. “I am pleased to play a role in raising the national consciousness of an ugly chapter in American race relations during World War II.”
If the bill is approved by Congress, the Park Service would conduct a feasibility study to determine whether the site merits inclusion in the National Park System. If the study concludes that merits such designation, Congress would then have to vote on whether or not to designate the site a national park.
Miller launched a similar effort several years ago that led to the creation of the of the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Historic Park, located in Richmond, CA. The site won national park status after a feasibility study concluded that it was of significant historical and national value.