This musical suite by bandleader and bassist Marcus Shelby recall the Bay Area naval base where a devastating explosion in July 1944 killed more than 320 men, predominantly African American sailors, and injured 400 others. It was the single worst disaster on U.S. soil during World War II.
African American sailors objected to the racial discrimination and unsafe working conditions at the base where only blacks were assigned to loading ammunition on ships. When 258 of the sailors protested in a work stoppage, the Navy called it mutiny, setting in motion the largest mutiny trial in U.S. Navy history. It would ultimately spur the desegregation of the armed forces that would affect the Presidio and military bases around the country.
Marcus Shelby notes that “the Port Chicago composition is an abstract representation that chronicles the story of these African American sailors. It pays homage to the men and to the sacrifices they made for the moral development of their country. It also honors the survivors—those who have had to bear the burden of history’s continuing injustice. Port Chicago hopes to again shed light on those injustices, and to join the efforts to exonerate the survivors.“
Port Chicago was commissioned by The Equal Justice Society, and premiered at the African American Museum and Library in Oakland. Composed by Marcus Shelby, with libretto by Val Hendrickson based on the book "The Port Chicago Mutiny" by Dr. Robert Allen.
Credit: Scott Chernis and Rodolfo Jones
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