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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  5,640 ratings  ·  941 reviews
An astonishing civil rights story from Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Steve Sheinkin.

On July 17, 1944, a massive explosion rocked the segregated Navy base at Port Chicago, California, killing more than 300 sailors who were at the docks, critically injuring off-duty men in their bunks, and shattering windows up to a mile away. On August 9th, 244 men r
Audio CD, Unabridged edition
Published January 28th 2014 by Listening Library (first published January 21st 2014)
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Cora Nonfiction. But the author writes it in such a way that it honestly feels more like fiction, with tension and rising action and a great big climax.

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Rachel Reads Ravenously

I was lucky enough to hear Steve Sheinkin speak at the CLCSC Fall Gala, and of all the interesting things he brought up, this story really stood out to me. Little known fact to anyone other than my close readers friends, I am a children's librarian. And my undergraduate degree was in history. Sheinkin's key note speech reminded me of why I love history. You see, he used to work for textbook companies, and they never told the interesting stories of history, so he wrote them on his own.

This story
Tony Keefer
Excellent book. My first thoughts when I finished The Port Chicago 50 were:

1) Wow.
2) Why hadn't I heard this story before?
3) Can't wait to share this book.
4) I am glad Steve Sheinkin likes to write books.
Penny Johnson
Here's the importance of this book: I grew up literally in the shadow of Port Chicago. The edge of the base was on the other side of the fence from my high school. And I NEVER heard about the Port Chicago 50 until I read an ARC of this book. You would think at least in my junior Social Studies class, where we had an extensive civil rights unit, we would have discussed something that happened in our backyard. But no. After I read the book I asked my mother what she knew about the whole thing, as ...more
Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a great work of nonfiction and an infuriating story--especially since I listened to it in the wake of the Ferguson decision. The story of these brave black sailors and the conditions they went through just ARGHHHH so inpsiring/annoying!! America!! what the hell!! what the hell!!

Anyway the audiobook was fine, but probably a print book would be preferable because I assume it has some pictures? I will have to check that out to confirm.

anyway, a well-researched, important story that hasn't b
Before Rosa Parks, before Jackie Robinson, before Freedom Summer . . . there was the Chicago Fifty: Fifty honorable and courageous, U.S. Navy sailors wrongfully and viciously accused of treason in the aftermath of the horrific and deadly munitions explosion at Port Chicago in Northern California during WWII.

These sailors, the oldest a mere twenty-two-years-old, all African Americans, all singled out for their race, were a part of a larger unit of sailors assigned to Port Chicago. Their job: the
Erica Hafferkamp
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Sheinkin does it again. The master of "amazing-but-true," "How-in-the-world-did-I-not-know-this-before?" nonfiction. It didn't grab me as quickly as Bomb did, but the build-up definitely pays off. No spoilers though! (Which is crazy because you could just go Google what happened! But I would never think to do that because Sheinkin keeps me so wrapped up in the story that I forget things like Google and Wikipedia ever existed. I trust Sheinkin and only Sheinkin to give me this information. Step a ...more
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
We all loved Bomb and this book is equally compelling and in this case, convincing. It is a story that has not been previously told to this audience and I think it will make them outraged at the abuses taken by African American men who joined the Navy only to be treated as even less than second class citizens and for whom there was a terrible miscarriage of justice. Thurgood Marshall plays a role here as well. The story is well researched, the men well flushed out, their motives well explained. ...more
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love finding books likes this. A story of an event that changed our history yet so few probably know it even happened.
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Students of American History, WW II, African American civil rights, Thurgood Marshall info.
Sheinkin has done it again: produced another award winner. OK, the awards haven't been announced at this point, but I can't see this not coming in for a King Award. Probably not the winner, I would guess Brown Girl Dreaming has that locked up, judging by all the talk and awards it has already won, but one of the honor books. Possibly a Siebert as well, although again, I suspect an honor, not the winner. It has been an incredible year for nonfiction. If that is due to Common Core, count me a fan ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Once again the multiple award-winning author Steve Sheinkin excels at reporting an important (but not widely known) moment in history in a format friendly to younger readers as well as to adults. In this case, the moment he records changed the course of race relations in the U.S.

Port Chicago was a U.S. Navy base in the San Francisco Bay where, during World War II, black sailers were assigned to load bombs and ammunition into ships headed for American troops in the Pacific. All the officers were
Liza Fireman
I wish that I could say that this book surprised me. I never heard about the Port Chicago 50 before, and I got to this book because it was on a non-fiction list of my sixth grade daughter. It is a story of black sailors in WWII, in a segregated base, discriminated against, and that end up in an unfair charges, and unfair trial.

Black people could not be real sailors, they could only serve as mess attendants and serve the white sailors: Trucks with roof-mounted speakers cruised slowly through Ame
Janelle Fila
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ya
The Port Chicago 50 is the story of 50 African-American men accused of mutiny by the Navy during World War II. Prior to the Civil Rights movement, these men pioneered the desegregation of the military, demanding safe working conditions for African-American soldiers. At the time, African-American were the only soldiers given the menial but dangerous job of loading live bombs onto Navy ships headed to war. Not allowed at sea themselves, these men were pushed to load ammunition faster, with no trai ...more
Connie  Kuntz
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I had grabbed the book because I saw the word "Chicago" in the title. I thought it was going to be about the city of Chicago. It's not. The Port Chicago 50 is about the brave black men at a naval base near San Francisco in the early 1940's. It follows the "mutiny" of 50 brave black navy soldiers who refused to load ammunition after a deadly explosion.

I read this with the kids. It's a great book that helped the kids (and me) understand (more fully) the following events and people:

Pearl Harbor, (
World War II seemed to offer opportunities for advancement for many African-Americans. But the promise remained simply that--a promise--as military units remained segregated, and many black sailors were given the jobs no one else wanted. This book, another fascinating plunge into a little-known aspect of history by the detail-minded Steve Sheinkin, tells the story of what happened at Port Chicago in 1944. Because the men who were handling explosives for the Navy at its base in the San Francisco ...more
The topic is interesting enough because it's a little-discussed piece of history. Black men in the NAVY are assigned to loading ammunition and explosives at the Port Chicago in California with little training because that was one of only very few options they had in the NAVY. As expected, the explosives explode and take out several hundred people and leave several hundred more injured by flying glass, metal, etc. Once all was said and done, fifty of the seamen decided that they would not comply ...more
Reading is my Escape
Port Chicago 50  
This book tells the true story of segregation in the Navy during World War II. African Americans who joined the Navy to serve their country were not allowed to serve on ships. People thought they weren't smart or brave enough. But only the black men were given the job of loading ammunition onto the ships. This was a dangerous job and the men weren't even give the proper training. The officers bet on their crews to see who could load the fastest. Inevitably, an explosion occurre
Reading is my Escape
This book tells the true story of segregation in the Navy during World War II. African Americans who joined the Navy to serve their country were not allowed to serve on ships. People thought they weren't smart or brave enough. But only the black men were given the job of loading ammunition onto the ships. This was a dangerous job and the men weren't even give the proper training. The officers bet on their crews to see who could load the fastest. Inevitably, an explosion occurred and many men wer ...more
Jennifer Mangler
Mar 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Once again, as a student of history, I'm surprised to learn of an important chapter I had never heard about before. Why? This is the kind of book that makes me angry and proud at the same time: angry at the injustice suffered by so many for so long; proud of the people who were brave enough to stand up for themselves despite the costs. They are what I love about America, and they are the reason our country is as good as it is. "All men are created equal" is an ideal we have failed to live up to, ...more
I am so glad I took the time to read this book. So many unsung heroes in the civil rights movement. This was well written and researched, but just doesn't have quite enough oomph for that 5th star, like I have his other book, Bomb.

My favorite quote: It was frustrating work, but Marshall cautioned fellow African Americans against turning bitter or losing hope. as rough as things were in the United States, he argued, they'd be a lot worse under the dictators America was fighting in World War II.
Feb 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Spellbinding true story of an important chapter in the racial struggle in the United States. I had no idea that the Navy was the first branch of the military to integrate. Thanks to these men who had the courage to stand up for themselves. Well written.
This is eligible for my Printz year, so I'm not going to review or rate it here.
Alex  Baugh
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: world-war-2
When the United States went to war in 1941, a lot of people immediately signed up to serve their country. After all, they were Americans and their country was now in peril. And so millions of Americans went to war to fight to defend the freedoms they enjoyed so much. African Americans signed up to defend their country as well, but things weren't quite the same for them. Instead of receiving the honor and respect they deserved, African Americans faced the same discrimination and segregation in th ...more
Richie Partington
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Richie's Picks: THE PORT CHICAGO 50: DISASTER, MUTINY, AND THE FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS by Steve Sheinkin, Roaring Brook, January 2014, 208p., ISBN: 978-1-59643-796-8

At the conclusion of THE PORT CHICAGO 50, author Steve Sheinkin points out that the fifty defendants in this racist miscarriage of military justice are all now deceased, and so it is too late to fully remedy what was done to them. Nevertheless, as the author notes, there are people who know the story who are still seeking to exonerat
Barb Middleton
Steve Sheinkin is one of my favorite historical writers. His narrative nonfiction writing has the drama and characters found in any fiction novel, with spot-on pacing, and meticulous research. Don't miss this one. Set during World War II, the Navy has changed policies so that blacks can enlist, but this does not mean equality. Instead, Sheinkin reveals the institutionalized racism in American society, military, and government showing how a small group of fifty men, out of fear, were one of the p ...more
Segregation and racism were alive and well during WWII. That didn't stop thousands of young black men from joining the military to fight for their country. Almost all of these men were assigned menial jobs and deemed not fit for combat. In the Navy, that meant stateside duties instead of serving on ships. This book is about the group of men who loaded ammunition onto war ships at Port Chicago. They were all black with white officers. The men had no training in munitions or ship loading. The cond ...more
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Here is the story of a grave injustice and it is an injustice that has been left to stand, so I finished the book with an unhappy, bitter taste in my mouth. Sheinkin's research is deep (and nicely-sourced in the end matter) and the text is filled with the actual words of several of the 50 men found guilty of mutiny because they refused to load munitions in an environment devoid of safety precautions and regard for human life during WWII. The men were justifiably in fear of their lives, having be ...more
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: childrens-books
I grew up literally a few hours from this base and never heard this story. Ever. The fact that so many pre-Civil Rights era stories are surfacing about people involved in similar struggles (I'm thinking Claudette Colvin and the 555th Parachute Infantry Batallion) makes this book timely as well as historically important. The prose is written appropriately for children and explains context and adult situations (like social implications of microaggressions and the significance of lawyers making a p ...more
Dec 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
During World War II, when the Navy was segregated, many black sailors were assigned the duty of loading bombs onto ships at Port Chicago. An explosion on July 17, 1944 killed 320 men at Port Chicago. Although the cause was unknown, it is possible that lack of education for the sailors about how to handle the bombs, as well as pressure to hurry from the officers (all of them white) may have contributed to the incident. When ordered to return to work under the same conditions, 50 sailors refused t ...more
Ms. Yingling
Sheinkin has a good eye for picking interesting topics for nonfiction, and his research is tireless. The primary source documents and photos bring this story of segregation and prejudice during World War II a startling immediacy. Background information about the role of black soldiers in conflicts before and after WWII puts this in perspective, as do the late life updates about some of the individuals involved. That said, this struck me (as much of Sheinkin's work does) as almost too complete fo ...more
May 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For adult readers this book is on the slightly superficial, one-dimensional side. But it's geared towards middle school readers and for that crowd I would rate this a solid 4 and recommend it as very good introduction to adult nonfiction.

The story here revolves around a WWII U.S. Navy civil rights problem which was previously unknown to me. The story itself is good and the book is fast paced, uncomplicated and highly readable. Some parts were a bit choppy as it seemed to me the author was trying
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I was born in Brooklyn, NY, and my family lived in Mississippi and Colorado before moving back to New York and settling in the suburbs north of New York City. As a kid my favorite books were action stories and outdoor adventures: sea stories, searches for buried treasure, sharks eating people… that kind of thing. Probably my all-time favorite was a book called

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