"THE PRICE OF FEAR" treatment by William C. Martell On July l7th, 1944, at 10:19 pm. the Navy Munitions Base at Port Chicago, California and the town of Port Chicago more than a mile away, were blown off the face of the earth. 322 people were killed, more than 400 more were seriously injured. It was the largest state-side disaster of World War II, making headlines in every paper across the United States. But the incidents following the explosion never made the headlines. 208 of the survivors were Court Martialed by the Navy. The remaining 50 were charged with Mutiny, punishable by death. Because they spoke out about unsafe working conditions... and they were Black. What follows is the true story of the largest Mutiny Trial in Navy history. An event which led to the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces. FIFTY BLACK MEN in hand cuffs and leg irons, looking more like slaves than Navy Enlisted Men, are escorted by White armed guards down a narrow hallway to the jail cells. A smart-looking Black man in his mid-thirties, well dressed, watches through the barred window of an interrogation room. He turns to the White Navy defense lawyer next to him and says, "The one they call the 'ring-leader'..." "Leroy Randell?" "Yeah. I want to talk to him." The Defense Lawyer nods. When Leroy Randell is escorted into the interrogation room, the well dressed Black man asks the Marine Guards to remove the hand cuffs and leg irons. The Guards argue that Randell is a dangerous man, accused of a capital crime. But the well dressed Black man gets his way. Randell is a twenty two year old kid dressed in ripped prison denim. He eyes the well dressed man suspiciously. "Who are you?" "I`m a lawyer." "Navy doesn't have any Negro lawyers." "I'm not with the Navy. I'm with the NAACP. My name is Thurgood Marshall. Why don't you tell me what happened?" "Where do you want me to start?" "How about the day before? July l6th?" Randell nods, sits back in the hard wooden chair, and tells his story. "It was hot. Over a hundred and ten degrees, and nobody could sleep. The officers had swamp coolers, but they'd only give us Negroes an old electric fan we had to keep fixing to make it work..." THE OLD ELECTRIC FAN sputters in the dark barracks as the day shift workers try to sleep. But the reveille trumpets blow their five o'clock wake up call, and the men begin rolling out of bed. As Randell and the men fall in for roll call, it's noted that one man, JIM is missing. A pair of white officers go into the barracks and drag him out of bed, calling him a "lazy nigger" for sleeping through reveille. Jim gets dressed without a fight and falls in, not wanting to be denied meal privileges. There are new recruits at Port Chicago today, including KENNY, a fresh faced sixteen year old kid. Randell notices AL, a twenty year old enlisted man, has returned to Port Chicago. AT BREAKFAST, Randell talks to Al, as Kenny listens in. Al had tried to get out of the dangerous and physically hard work of loading ammo at Port Chicago by retraining as a ship's gunner. Although he graduated head of his class at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, he was sent back to Port Chicago to load ammo. Since the Navy is segregated, and there are no 'Negro Ships', Blacks can either load ammo or do cooking and janitorial work at a base. "Join the Navy, see the world... Unless you're a Negro, then all you see is Port Chicago." Randell calls AL 'Boomerang', and everyone laughs. When the men fall in for work at 6:45, one man, LOUIS, refuses to load ammo, saying that it is dangerous work. When the (White) Lieutenant, DeNATTO, tells Louis the work is perfectly safe, "You should try it sometime", Louis asks "If it's so safe, why aren't there any White divisions loading ammo in the Navy?" Lt. DeNatto answers by having Louis thrown in the brig without meals for 24 hours. RANDELL, BOOMERANG AL, KENNY, and the rest of the men are packed in 'cattle cars', shoulder to shoulder. The 'cattle cars' are pulled by a tractor from the base to the docks, while the Officers drive down in their Jeeps. In the 'cattle car', Kenny asks Randell what they're supposed to do... There was no training in ammo handling. Al reply is "Hard work". Randell's answer is "Pray we don't get any 'hot loads'." Shells with the detonators installed. The OFFICER driving the tractor/cattle cars, gets into a race with DeNatto's Jeep and has to slam on the brakes when they get to the pier. Inside the "cattle car' men are smashed into each other from the jolting stop, receiving bruises and cuts. One man has a broken finger, but when the doors to the cattle car are opened, he is ordered to load ammo with everyone else. THE DOCK AT PORT CHICAGO is Y shaped, and can service two ships. Bombs, missiles, and shells are brought in by train; each train car parked in 'blast proof' bunkers until the cargo is loaded by wheel barrow and hand into the ships. The bombs weigh as much as 1,000 pounds, and are muscled into place by hand. As the men put on their gloves to work, Lt. DeNatto makes a $50 bet with Lt. TOLAN that his division can load more tonnage. The bet made, each Lieutenant tells his division that they'll be denied movie privileges and punished with extra work details on their 'duty day' if their work does not meet the 'new quota' of tonnage. The men are then put to work loading the E.A.Bryan "Liberty Ship". THE WORK IS HARD. Slave labor, according to Al. One group of men unload the ammo from the box cars onto wheel barrows and dollies. Another group races the ammo to the pier, where it is dumped. At the pier, Randell and the other winch operators, use the ship's winches to pick up nets filled with six tons of shells and lower them into the cargo hold of the ship, where another group of men unload the nets and stack the ammo. The two Lieutenants yell at the men, calling them "Niggers, Jungle Bunnies, Jigs, and Goons" and order them to work faster. After four hours of back breaking work, a short lunch break is given, where the men can drink water and eat sandwiches. AFTER LUNCH, Kenny asks Randell how he learned to be a winch operator. Randell says "They ordered me to do it, so I did it". No one gets any training at ammo loading, and the Navy doesn't even have a training book. But since only Black enlisted men do the work, what does it matter? "We're expendable". An hour after the men go back to work, the winch Randell is using breaks down from over-use. When Randell tells DeNatto they have to stop loading, DeNatto forbids it. "The winch will be repaired tomorrow, until then, get some men and lower the cargo by hand." As the men begin lowering the cargo by hand, DeNatto moves behind a bunker in case of accidental explosion. Small shells are 'poured' into the hold out of the wheel barrows. A train car of 16" battleship shells is unloaded next. When a net full of shells being lowered into the ship's hold gets loose, more than a thousand pounds of shells rain down on the crew in the hold. One of the shells lands on its nose. BLAM! There is a minor explosion, as the paint bomb (used to target subsequent projectiles) showers the hold with blue paint. The men in the hold scream, trying to crawl out of the hold and away from the explosion. When they crawl out of the hold, covered with blue paint, some "old timers" laugh at them. "It's just the paint bombs, nothing to worry about." DeNatto orders the men back to work denying them time to wash off the blue paint. "We've got to make our quota." THAT NIGHT, when Randell gets out of the 'cattle car' back at the base, he asks DeNatto if there's any danger that a paint bomb could set off the TNT in another bomb. DeNatto tells him there's no danger; but Randell presses it, using logic to make his point. DeNatto asks Randell if he wants to spend his life in the brig like Louis, and Randell backs down. DINNER for the enlisted men is fried eggplant. No meat, no chicken, no fish. But as AL says, before he joined the Navy, he was lucky to get one meal a day, let alone three. The Depression was still going on in the Black community in 1944. The men tell of their various reasons for joining the Navy ("I was drafted", Randell says.) and their homes and loved ones. Kenny tells the others he's married, and shows them a silver plated ring his wife gave him. Randell and the others admire the ring, and take Kenny under their wing. IN THE OFFICER'S MESS, Lt. DeNatto eats his chicken dinner and asks the base commander, Captain KINEY, if it's possible that a paint bomb could set off the TNT in a shell. Captain Kiney says it's never happened before. "But is it POSSIBLE?" DeNatto asks. Cpt. Kiney responds, "I don't know. What do I know about explosives? I was an engineer in civilian life. I never saw a bomb before I was called up." THE NEXT MORNING, a civilian REPAIRMAN works on the broken winch as Randell watches. When the men run up with their wheel barrows of shells and begin 'pouring' them into the hold, the Repairman gets the jitters. Randell tells him there's nothing to worry about, but the Repairman doesn't believe him "I don't like the looks of things around here." He finishes his work quickly and leaves the base. Randell tries out the winch, and is satisfied with the results. Work resumes. A COAST GUARD INSPECTOR approaches DeNatto, and asks him about the equipment failure yesterday. DeNatto tells the Inspector that it has been repaired. The Inspector would like to check out the winch, and oversee the working and safety conditions, but DeNatto holds him back. "This is a restricted area. You gotta have permission from Commander Gross, l2th District Navy Operations." After the Inspector reluctantly leaves, DeNatto and Tolan have a laugh. "We'd never make the quota if we had to load while that guy was around." DeNatto sees Kenny taking an unscheduled break from loading the 60 pound shells and reprimands him. AL and Jim stand up for Kenny, but it does little good. Kenny is reassigned to graveyard shift, beginning that night. When DeNatto leaves, Kenny thanks the two men for trying to help. THE WORK continues, with the officers ordering them to work faster to make up for yesterday's lost time. Jim comments that he thought slavery had been abolished. "Not in the Navy," is Randell's reply. The men begin talking about their frustrations as they work. Randell tells about the letter they wrote to the Navy a year ago. The enlisted men of Port Chicago asked the Navy to consider rewarding hard working men with officer status, or shipboard duty. Many of the men had advanced training for ship operations, and if the Navy would create a Negro Ship, the men at Port Chicago would have something to work towards. But the Navy never replied to their letter. BY THE END OF THE DAY, the E.A.Bryan is loaded. Randell tells Kenny that he may have lucked out. There may be no work for the graveyard shift to do. But then a ship moves towards the pier, the Quinalt Victory, a brand new cargo ship. "It never ends" Jim says. THAT NIGHT, the men go to bed, joking with Kenny who's just getting up after a four hour nap between shifts. After Kenny slips out with the graveyard shift, the men drift off to sleep. "Less than twenty minutes after we fell asleep," Randell tells Thurgood Marshall, "the first explosion hit." ACT TWO THE MEN ARE ASLEEP when the first explosion hits, knocking them out of their bunks and across the room. "What happened?" "The Japs!" "Air raid!" Randell and the men scrambling to their feet in panic as the second explosion rips through. The second blast sends flames in a three mile diameter, shooting fire and debris more than 9,000 feet into the air. Night turns into daylight. THE WORLD TURNS INTO HELL. The barracks disintegrate, and the men are hurled a hundred yards across the base. Flying glass slices a man's leg clean off. A 16" ship shell flies through the side of the recreation room. Jeeps FLY past, crashing into buildings. Flames shoot through the base, burning some men and leaving others untouched. The fireball is so bright, it blinds some men permanently. Shells, parts of train cars and ships, and broken glass rain down on the base, adding to the destruction from the blast. Windows are broken twenty five miles away by the force of the concussion. A 300 pound iron section of the E.A.Bryan's deck lands on a suburban street two miles away, sinking six inches into the pavement. Smaller debris, like ten pound shell casings, rain down on farms more than four miles away. A thirty foot wall of water presses through the San Francisco Bay, capsizing ships in its path. THE BASE IS COMPLETELY DESTROYED, some buildings on fire. Leroy Randell pushes out from under debris and gets to his feet. All around him, men are moving to their feet. "You all right?" "You okay?" "You alright?" For a few moments, the men stand in shock, feeling over their bodies for injuries and finding surprisingly few. "Was it the Japs?" one man asks. Randell shakes his head, turning to look at the fireball. "The ships." FLAMES begin racing from one shattered building to the next. "We gotta get that fire out!" Jim yells. He and AL organize a bucket brigade. While this group puts out the fire, Randell and another group begins administering first aid. Many men have glass cuts, some are blind, some have broken arms and legs, a few have severed limbs. Belts are used as tourniquets, bed linens turned into make shift stretchers and bandages. Randell makes a splint for a kid called 'TEX' who has a broken arm. Lt. Tolan grabs the phone and tries to call for outside help, but the phone is dead. So is the power and water. A man is sent by Jeep into town to get help. Seriously wounded men are taken by Jeep, and by a commandeered Greyhound bus to the Concord Community Hospital several miles away, later transferred to Mare Island Navy Hospital. CAPTAIN KINEY grabs Randell, "Get some flashlights." Randell races to what's left of the P.O. and grabs an arm load of flashlights. Kiney and Tolan swing by in their Jeep, and Randell climbs in and hands the flashlights to Kiney. As they drive down the road to the docks and the shrinking fireball, Kiney loads batteries into the flashlights. "We've got to help the men on the pier." Randell nods and checks flashlights. Suddenly, Tolan stops the Jeep. "What are you stopping for? It's another half mile to the pier." Tolan replies: "There's no more road, sir." In the Jeep's headlights, they see the pavement has come to an abrupt stop, and a crater begins. The crater is filling with bay water and an oil slick. "We'll walk down," Randell suggests. "No. There'll be shells scattered all over. They might explode." Randell realizes he handled those shells every day. "We'll wait until morning. And get some bomb experts out here to handle them." They drive back to the base, to help with the injured men. THE NEXT MORNING, Randell, Jim, Louis, and AL are part of the crew sent out to the pier to search for survivors. But there isn't any pier. Wood pilings stick out of the oily water like fingers, broken off at irregular intervals. The destruction, here, is unbelievable. Sections of the Quinalt Victory float in the water, train cars are turned upside down, foundations are all that survive of buildings. Randell, Jim, Louis, and Al search for bodies, but find only parts. Lt. DeNatto reports to Captain Kiney. "All dead, sir." "How many?" "Don't know. We could only identify 51 of the bodies sir." DeNatto begins to break down. "And most are only parts. Ben Jackson, we only found his head, sir. Floating on the water. No body. Just the head. But he's one we could identify. The others... They're gone." DeNatto begins crying, and Kiney grabs the man's shoulder. "Take it easy." DeNatto wipes his tears and gets back to work. Jim spots a hand and arm protruding from some debris. On one finger is a silver plated wedding band. "Randell! Al! I got Kenny!" The men run over and help Jim pull away the debris. But they don't find Kenny. The arm ends at the elbow. That's all that's left of Kenny. Jim goes into shock and starts screaming. Randell TURNS TO MARSHALL, "Jim was one of the four men sighted for bravery in fighting the fire. Admiral Wrightson called us heroes. Said so in the papers. The next day they bussed us across the bay to Mare Island Navy Shipyard." ON THE BUS TO MARE ISLAND, the men don't talk with each other. They're in a state of shock. When the bus backfires going up a hill, every man hits the dirt... Including Lt. Tolan. AT MARE ISLAND, the men are painting barracks. Louis complains that his mom's house hasn't been painted in fifteen years, and here he is painting a building painted less than a year ago. Randell says it's better than loading ammo. All of the men say they won't load ammo ever again. Jim is concerned when he finds out Mare Island has taken over ammo loading while they rebuild Port Chicago. "The docks are opposite the Parade Grounds you know? Where the road turns left?" Jim doesn't want to be within a hundred miles of ammo. "I'd rather do combat duty. Even on the frontline, they give you a gun. You can shoot back. You can see the enemy." "And if you die," Louis says, "They give you a medal." A few of the men ask about the 30 days survivors leave due them. It's been two weeks... Randell says, "We'll get our leave... eventually. It's the Navy. Place where it takes three weeks to get a new blanket if you lose yours. You've just got to be patient." THE OFFICERS leave Mare Island to testify at the Navy's Inquiry. The question which comes up over and over is "Where were the Coast Guard Inspectors? They're supposed to be on base at all times." Each one of the officers testifies that the Coast Guard men were removed from the base more than a year ago because they created a schism in command of the enlisted men, and their safety standards were impractical. Captain Kiney testifies that his quotas had no impact on safety. "I made sure all safety regulations are available, but most of the enlisted men can't read." The Judge finds no evidence of sabotage, and pins the blame on "Colored enlisted personnel intellectually incapable of handling high explosives." Case closed. A FEW DAYS LATER, the men fall in, ready to repaint another building. Lt. Tolan issues them all work gloves. "What are these for?" "Maybe we're hauling lumber today." But Randell just stares at his gloves, knowing what they're for. Lt. Tolan marches the men across the base to a T in the road. To the right, the Parade Grounds and a possible painting job. To the left, the docks and a ship waiting to be loaded with ammo. When Lt. Tolan orders them to march to the left, the men stop moving. Tolan orders them again to march left, but nobody moves. Tolan goes up to Randell, "What's the meaning of this?" "I'm not going to load ammo, sir." Other men in the group echo this. "I'll do anything except load ammo, sir" Randell explains. Tolan doesn't know how to handle this, but finally orders the men to march to the right... to the Parade Grounds. Tolan asks if any of the men will load ammo. No one speaks up. CHAPLAIN FOWLER moves onto the grand stand to address the men. He asks why they won't load ammo, and Randell answers, "Less than three weeks ago, our friends were killed. It could have been us. We'll do anything, but load ammo." The Chaplain tells them there's a war on, and 'our brave boys' need you men to do this. "Why don't you do it, sir?" a voice calls out. "My duties are here. But I'll go out with you men for a few hours, if it will help." None of the men believe this. The Chaplain singles out Randell, and asks him why he won't follow orders. "I'll follow any order, sir, except to load ammo." "Why?" "I'm afraid, sir. I never thought I'd admit to being afraid of anything, sir. Especially not in front of a crowd of people. But I'm afraid that what happened at Port Chicago could happen again." The Chaplain looks at the men. "I'm going to give you men a few days to think about this." He has Tolan, DeNatto, and some Shore Patrolmen escort the 258 men to a small barge at the pier. THE 258 MEN are crammed onto the barge, shoulder to shoulder, and kept under guard for three days. One of the younger men begs the Shore Patrol Officer to let him off the barge. "I'll go back to work, I'll do anything." But the Officer shakes his head, "Too late, Nigger. Had your chance, now you hang with the rest of them." By the second day, tempers are flaring among the men. Randell breaks up a fight between two men, then makes a speech. He tells the men they have to stand tall and stand together. "Knock off the fighting. That's just what they want us to do. Fight each other so they can throw us in the brig. If we stick together, they can't do anything to us. Obey their orders. If they want us to clean toilets, we clean toilets. Don't give them any reason to give us trouble." The men applaud the speech. AL thinks if they stick together, maybe the Navy will give them a ship. Later that day, Louis shows Randell a petition most of the men have signed. A petition against loading ammo. Randell reads the petition, then tears it up. "We don't want anything on paper. They'll give us dishonorable discharges if we do that. Nothing on paper." Louis nods. AT THE END OF THE THREE DAYS, the men are escorted by armed guard to the baseball diamond on base. There are more guards present than ever before, and Randell is worried. Admiral Wrightson addresses the men. He tells them they will NEVER have the chance for shipboard duty if they won't load ammo. "I don't believe any of you have the guts for shipboard duty." Then he threatens them, "I want to remind you men that mutiny in time of war carries the death sentence. You will be facing a firing squad if you continue to refuse orders." Randell and the men are confused. "Mutiny? You gotta be on a ship for that, don't you?" "You can't shoot us. You need an Act of Congress before you can shoot three hundred men." "I'm not gonna load. You can't shoot me for doing what's right." The Admiral again states than anyone not following orders will be shot. "I'll follow any order, except loading ammo, sir," Randell says. "Then you'll be shot. Disobeying one order is the same as disobeying all orders." "I don't follow that, sir." DeNatto nudges Randell with his gun butt, "It's because you're an ignorant Nigger." The Admiral orders the men to separate into two groups. Those who will load ammo, and those who will be shot for mutiny. AL turns to Randell, "I can't let them shoot me, man. If I'm gonna die, it's not going to be with a blindfold over my eyes." "It's one blindfold or another, Al. They aren't giving us any other choices." "I can't do it," AL says. Randell nods, and shakes the man's hand. The two men go to opposite sides of the baseball field. Louis sees all of the men headed towards the 'loading' side and starts whispering to them. "They aren't going to shoot us. They can't. It's a bluff, don't you see? If we work they don't have to call white boys to do the job. If we don't stand together, now, it'll never change." But most of the men, 208 of them, choose to load ammo. Forty four men refuse to load ammo. Randell and Admiral Wrightson lock eyes. "Last chance, men." Randell shakes his head, "You don't give us any chances, sir." The Admiral orders the 44 men taken to the brig and held under armed guard, twenty four hours a day. Pending trial for Mutiny... and the firing squad. ACT THREE THE FORTY FOUR MEN are locked in four cells as they await trail. The second day of captivity, six men are added to the group. Two are company cooks, who, when asked if they would load ammo, answered "I'm just a cook." Two men are fresh releases from the hospital, one is Tex, who has a broken arm. When asked if Tex would load ammo, he answers, "I have a broken arm, I can't." Two more were late to roll call, and being charged with Mutiny was their punishment. "There were fifty of us, crammed into those four cells," Randell tells Marshall. "At first I felt sorry for the six guys, the 'randoms', but then I realized we were all in that cell for the same reason. You got more than three hundred people killed, and somebody has to take the blame, somebody has to take the punishment. It wasn't going to be the Brass taking it for dangerous working conditions. So it had to be the worker's fault." Marshall tells Randell the fate of the 208 men who said they'd load ammo. They were Court Martialed, given dishonorable discharges, and denied all veterans benefits. This doesn't surprise Randell at all. "A couple days later, they put me in solitary and brought in the other men for interrogation. One by one." THE INTERROGATIONS are headed by Lt. Commander JAMES CONNERS, the lawyer who will prosecute the case. "Now, you've got nothing to fear from Randell. He'll be in solitary until the trail," he tells one of the men. "So feel free to speak your mind. I mean, why should you get the firing squad like him? He's the ring leader, you were just doing what you were told." With each of the men, the interrogators try to collect evidence against Randell. "Somebody's gotta be the leader, everybody needs a leader." "We didn't need a leader. Anybody who was there, at Port Chicago, knows enough to make his own decision." To Louis: "We heard there was a meeting on the barge. That Randell organized all of you against us." "Randell told the men to quit fighting, sir, that's all." "Then why did you refuse to obey orders?" "I was scarred. I saw my friends blown apart, I didn't want it to happen to me." "A big guy like you afraid?" "A man would be a fool not to be afraid, sir." To Tex: "We want to know what happened on the barge." "I don't know anything about a barge, sir." "Randell talked to you men, organized you." "I wasn't on a barge, sir." "Then why are you here, Nigger?" "I don't know, sir." "You refused to work, didn't you?" "My arm's broke, sir." "If you testify against the ring leaders, we won't have to shoot you." Same offer to another man: "Ring leaders, sir? I don't know anything about ring leaders. Did the circus come to town?" For this, he gets slapped with a gun butt. None of the men acknowledge any sort of conspiracy. They all say they decided on their own not to load ammo. After the interrogation, the men are given typed statements to sign. "What's it say? I can't read." "Just says what you told me." The man signs. Louis reads over his statement. "This isn't what I said." "Sure it is. You saw the man taking notes, didn't you?" "This isn't what I said. You can't make me sign it." The Interrogator turns to the clerk. "Note that he refused to sign the statement. That he was uncooperative." He turns back to Louis, "Refusing to sign, boy, that was your death warrant." Conners handles Randell's interrogation personally. The two men square off. Conners tells Randell that other men testified that Randell organized the mutiny. Randell calmly says they are lying. "We've got signed statements." "What? From men who can't read?" Conners continues to brow beat Randell, but can't get him to change his story. THE TRIAL IS HELD IN A MAKE SHIFT COURTROOM. A tribunal of seven Navy Officers, all white, serve as jury, with an ADMIRAL as judge. There are five defense lawyers, each responsible for ten of the men. Before the opening arguments, one of the DEFENSE LAWYERS approaches the tribunal with a brief. He contends that since the men only disobeyed an order, and did not attempt to take control of the base, they should not be tried for Mutiny. Prosecutor Conners disagrees, and submits his own brief. The tribunal sides with Conners, and the Mutiny charges remain. The first witness is Lt.Tolan. He relates how the men refused to load ammo, and refused to march to the dock. He spoke to several of the men at the Parade Grounds, and they said they were afraid to work. Under cross examination, Tolan admits that he can not remember if the men were actually ORDERED to load ammunition. If a formal order was ever given. The men simply stopped marching when they were told to march to the dock. He further states that the men obeyed all other orders given to them, and were not riotous or disrespectful. DeNatto is the second witness. He states that the men were told a day in advance that they would be loading ammunition, giving them plenty of time to organize. DeNatto says when the men fell in for duty on August 9th, he overheard one man say "Don't go to work for those white motherfuckers" but doesn't know which of the men said it. The DEFENSE lawyers attempt to strike this as hearsay, but it remains. DeNatto then relates the events at the Parade Grounds and later at the baseball diamond. DeNatto says he overheard one man at the baseball diamond say "Let's run over those motherfuckers, they won't do anything to us," but again doesn't know which man said it. The Defense again moves to strike, but is overruled. Under cross examination, DeNatto admits that many of the men voiced their fear of loading ammo. That the men agreed to follow all orders, with the exception of loading ammunition. When asked about Tex, DeNatto says that after he was released from the hospital, he was asked if he would load ammo, and he refused. "But his arm's in a cast." "There's plenty of things a guy with one arm can do on the docks. He could have worked if he wanted." They recess for the rest of the day. THE REST OF THE PROSECUTION WITNESSES relate similar stories: The Chaplain tells of his speech at the baseball diamond. But admits the men were very respectful. Cross examined, he doesn't remember if any of the men actually said they would refuse the order to load ammo. He only remembers them saying they were AFRAID to load ammo. He also states he saw no evidence of an organized conspiracy. "All of the men seemed afraid of the prospect of loading ammunition. Some of them felt they deserved survivor's leave before being ordered back to work." AFTER A RECESS, Thurgood Marshall files in with the few members of the gallery and observes the Prosecution's case. THE NEXT PROSECUTION WITNESS is one of the 208 men not charged with mutiny. He admits that BEFORE the orders to load ammo on August 9th, some of the men had voiced their opinions that they'd "Never touch ammo again, even if ordered." He testifies that a "don't work" petition was circulated on the barge, but doesn't know what happened to it. He also testifies that Randell made a speech, telling the men to stick together. "By 'sticking together', you mean 'Organize against the officers'?" "No, sir. He meant not to fight amongst ourselves." "I have your statement, here. You said 'Randell told us to stick together, that we had the officers by the balls'." "That's not what I said." "Are you perjuring yourself, now? I have a signed statement, here." "That's not what I said." ANOTHER OF THE 208 admits to signing the petition. "What did it say?" "It said, we the undersigned men are willing to work, but don't want to handle ammunition." "That means you'd refuse to handle ammunition, right?" "I guess. We didn't want to do it. We were afraid it'd blow up again." "But there WAS a petition, there WAS an organized effort to disobey the orders to load ammunition, is that correct?" "I guess so, sir." "The Prosecution rests." THAT NIGHT, Thurgood Marshall holds a press conference. "I see no reason why these men should be charged with Mutiny, a capital crime, instead of insubordination. The Prosecution has not even proven that a direct order to load ammunition was ever given to these men. These are brave men, who were willing to go to jail in order to get a change of duty, because they were afraid of handling dangerous and highly explosive ammunition only a few weeks after an accident claimed the lives of their co-workers. But not one man had any idea that their verbal expression of this fear constituted mutiny." He goes on to sight the Prosecutor, Mr. Conners, as being prejudiced. "This is not an individual case. This is the NAVY on trial for its whole vicious policy towards Negroes. Negroes in the Navy don't mind loading ammunition. They just want to know why they are the only ones doing the loading." Why are they doing the dangerous work? "Why are they segregated, and don't ever get promoted?" The next morning, Marshall finds that his press conference didn't make most of the papers. The San Francisco Chronicle didn't carry it. Only the Black papers found it fit to print. THE DEFENSE begins with a minor victory. The tribunal rules that testimony from Prosecution witnesses will only apply to those defendants named by the witnesses. Marshall doesn't think it means anything, as the 50 are being tried as a unit, not individually. The Defense calls the 50 men, one by one, to testify. EDDIE, the first man on the stand: "They gave us the gloves, and I thought we'd be hauling lumber. We'd done that a couple of other days. Then they marched up out to the T in the road. When the Lieutenant told us to march left, we all just stopped. To the left was the ships, the ammo loading. None of us wanted any of that." Later, when asked if he would obey all lawful orders, he answered, "Yes, but I'm afraid to load ammunition." "So if you HAD received a direct order to load ammunition, you would have?" "Yes." "Later, at the baseball field, you were asked again if you'd load ammunition, weren't you?" "Yes. And I said I was afraid, and they told me to stand against the wall. When I realized the guys against the wall were the ones they were going to shot, I went up to the Lieutenant and said they put me in the wrong group. He told me, 'It's too late, Nigger'." CROSS EXAMINED BY Conners, Eddie says Randell's speech on the barge was to keep people from fighting. Conners reads passages from Eddie's statement, and asks if they're true. "I never said that," Eddie replies. "But it's in your statement. You signed it." The Defense asks that the statements not be used as evidence, and wins the point. The next witness is named Ollie, and is one of the 6 added to the group later. He tells of his medical condition which prohibits him from heavy work. When asked if he would load ammunition, he replied that he COULDN'T, and was added to the 'mutiny' group. The last witness for the day is LOUIS. Under cross examination, Conners brings up that this isn't the first time he refused to load ammunition. "Yes, sir. But the other times, they only threw me in the brig." "You're saying you willfully disobeyed an order?" "There was never a direct order, sir." "The Lieutenant testified that he gave you a direct order." "He must be mistaken, sir." Conners gives up. The Admiral asks if Louis has anything else to say. "I have a few things to say, sir. The reason I'd rather spend my time in the brig than loading ammo at Port Chicago was the quotas and conditions, sir. The officers had all of the men racing around, trying to see who could load the most tonnage. We had to toss around bombs like they were baseballs. If we didn't work fast enough, we'd get punished. Sir, you throw around bombs long enough, sooner or later one's going to go off. It happened once at Port Chicago, and there was no reason it wouldn't happen again at Mare Island." Conners jumps to his feet and asks that these statements be struck from the record. The Defense DOESN'T object. But the press has heard enough, and the next day, the question of working conditions gets play in the papers... Along with a denial from the Navy. A man on trial for his life is apt to say anything. THE PRESS ARE THERE IN FORCE WHEN Randell IS CALLED TO THE STAND. Randell relates his conversations on the baseball field, admitting "I told him I would obey any order, EXCEPT the order to load ammunition. I tried to explain why, but the Lieutenant said, 'Against the wall, Next'." "Explain now." "I was afraid, sir. The ammunition was dangerous. At Port Chicago, whenever I voiced my belief that it was dangerous, they told me that I was wrong. Ignorant." He relates the incidents on the barge, and his speech. How he was just trying to keep the peace. CONNERS and Randell face off for the cross examination. Conners finds slight differences in Randell's statement and his testimony, and tries to make him change his testimony. Randell hangs tough. When Randell doesn't call Conners 'sir', Conners lights into him, calling him disrespectful of a superior. "Superior OFFICER, you mean, sir." Conners asks about organization BEFORE August 9th, and Randell answers "Nobody wanted to ever load ammunition again. But we never discussed it. Sir, our friends were killed loading ammunition. That's enough reason. We didn't need to organize." JIM concurs. When he is asked about his statement, he said he was told by Conners when interrogated that if he didn't tell the truth about Randell 'organizing the mutiny' he'd be shot. "Cpt. Conners threatened to shoot you?" " Yes, sir. For trying to escape." Conners and the Defense lawyer get into an argument. Conners denies ever threatening anyone with shooting. The Admiral breaks up the argument: "Since the Defendant WASN'T shot, could we continue with the trial?" THE NEXT WITNESS is a Navy Psychiatrist who testifies that as a result of the Port Chicago explosion, the fear within the men would be so great that they may not be ABLE to load ammunition. "Once burned, twice shy." AT THE RECESS, Randell and Marshall talk for a few minutes, before Marshall talks to the press. MARSHALL calls for a formal investigation into the explosion at Port Chicago. Including: 1) The Navy's policy of restricting Black Navy enlisted men REGARDLESS OF TRAINING OR QUALIFICATIONS to be laborers in segregated divisions. 2) The unsafe manner ammunition is handled, and the lack of training of enlisted men AND officers in basic safety procedure. 3) Why the Navy disregarded official safety warnings from the Coast Guard, and the waterfront unions about the way they handled ammunition. 4) Why the men were given quotas and punishments. 5) The haphazard manner the 50 men were chosen to be tried for mutiny, when others were not charged... Including 100 men who refused to load ammo at Port Chicago BEFORE the explosion, claiming it was dangerous. These hundred men were farmed out as cooks and laborers to other divisions. ONE OF THE 208 testifies that there was no advanced notice that they'd be loading ammunition that day, so when ALL of the men refused to march to the docks, it came as a surprise. The defense calls one of Conners' officers, who admits that statements were often changed from what had actually been said. Sometimes 'unimportant' statements made by the men were deleted. THE CLOSING ARGUMENT FROM THE DEFENSE ties it all together. "If the men talked of fear of loading ammunition before August 9th, so what? They had just survived an explosion of that ammo. We would do the same thing. People in towns near Port Chicago claim to being afraid of slamming doors, even now. When the men talked of their fears, that wasn't mutiny. As for the petition, what was it for? They didn't want to handle ammunition... It only follows they were petitioning for a change of duty. If they were joining a mutiny, they wouldn't need a petition. Should these men be punished for following what they had known to be the democratic way of life, which incorporates the right to petition, and freedom of expression?" After the closing arguments, Marshall goes up to Randell. "I think congratulations are in order." "You're wrong. They're going to shoot us. They were all along. They had to give us a trial, just to make it look right," Randell says. "They're going to find us guilty." SIX WEEKS OF HEARINGS, almost 1,500 pages of trial transcripts, and a hundred witnesses... The seven Officer jury returns from lunch 80 minutes later with a verdict. Guilty. All fifty men found guilty of mutiny. Because of the Prosecution's failure to prove they were ever in violation of direct orders, they will serve 15 years in prison, rather than be shot. Randell looks at Marshall and smiles. Marshall tells Randell he'll appeal it. They won't have to serve any time. WASHINGTON, D.C. Navy Appeals Court. Thurgood Marshall makes his appeal before the Navy Judge Advocate General. He is told that his appeal brief is in good company... Eleanor Roosevelt had asked the Secretary Of The Navy to look into the Port Chicago 50 Trial. But civilian law, and civilian causes, are not Navy concern. Marshall is told that the verdict stands. Marshall gives an impassioned speech, stating that "The accused were made scapegoats in a situation brought on by a combination of circumstances. I can't understand why, whenever more than one Negro disobeys an order, it's automatically a mutiny." These men are HEROES. WHERE THEY ARE NOW: One month after Thurgood Marshall's appeal, the Navy integrated. When Port Chicago was rebuilt, both whites and blacks were given the task of loading ammunition. One year after the War was over, forty seven of the men were released from prison, but remained on probation. Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1967. James Conners has made a career of prosecuting black activists, including the Black Panthers. Port Chicago is now called the Concord Naval Weapons Depot. It is the West Coast's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, and a danger to the surrounding community. In 1987, a Navy munitions train ran over protester Brian Wilson, severing both of his legs. Leroy Randell is a composite character, but... TO THIS DAY, the survivors of Port Chicago have been denied all veteran's benefits and are STILL branded mutineers. The guilty verdict in the mutiny trial has never been overturned. THE END "THE PRICE OF FEAR" a treatment by William C. Martell. c 1986 by William C. Martell AUTHOR'S NOTE: All characters are composites, names were changed to protect the innocent, and certain scenes were dramatized. This treatment is based on newspaper accounts, tours of the Navy Base, stories told to me by survivors and my own family members (area residents) who witnessed many of the events, and materials from a 1984 TV documentary which I narrated and co-produced.
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