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Date: Sun, 28 Mar 1999 00:34:33 -0800 (PST)
From: Earl Ofari Hutchinson <EHutchi344@AOL.COM>
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Subject: [BRC-NEWS] NBC-TV Doesn't Tell Full Story of "Mutiny"
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The Still Untold Story Of NBC's ‘Mutiny’

By Earl Hutchinson, 28 March 1999

While there is much that the recent NBC-TV production of "Mutiny" tells about the plight of the Port Chicago defendants, there is much that it did not tell.

NBC told this story. In 1944, an ammunition ship exploded at the naval facility at Port Chicago, California, 320 seamen were killed, 202 of whom were black. The deaths of the African-Americans accounted for more than 15 percent of the black casualties in World War II. Immediately after the blast fifty African-American seamen were convicted of mutiny against the Navy for refusing to continue loading ammunition on board the weapons ships at the naval base.

It was the largest mass mutiny trial in U.S. history.

Their trial and imprisonment was described by many legal experts and some government officials as one of the "greatest travesties of justice" in U.S. legal annals. Although the fifty defendants were given a general amnesty in 1946 and their sentences reduced to time served, their convictions stood. They were permanently branded as "mutineers."

What the NBC-TV special does not fully tell is that this was the start of an anguishing fifty-year odyssey of fear, personal pain and hardship for the men and their families. Some changed their names and moved frequently in an effort to secure jobs and hide their past. NBC also did not tell that despite the pleas of numerous congressional leaders, President Clinton has offered no apologies to the men and/or their families.

There were brief moments of hope that this might change. In the early 1990s, the Port Chicago case inspired a book, a TV documentary, editorials in the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and sympathetic articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Christian Science Monitor. In January 1991, California senators Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, and 24 members of Congress attached a resolution to a military authorization bill that requested the Navy to reopen the case. President Bush signed the bill.

There was little dispute about the facts in the case. Blacks were the only ones forced to load ammunition. They were improperly trained, offered no counseling, or leaves, and were convicted by an all-white tribunal. The demand that their records be cleared appeared to be a relatively low-cost political demand. It wasn't. Following a two year review in 1994, the Navy acknowledged that discrimination and poor treatment were the norm for black seamen during World War II. But in an astonishing gyration in logic it ruled "that neither racial prejudice nor other improper factors tainted the original investigations and trials."

More amazing, the Navy secretary claimed that the Universal Code of Military Justice in 1950 allowed only a one-year statue of limitation for those charged with World War II offenses to apply for restitution and that the men had failed to apply. The secretary did not say whether the Navy ever bothered to notify the men about the time limit. He informed them that there only recourse was to seek a presidential pardon. In effect it washed its hands of the case and tossed it to Clinton. It has stayed there since 1994. Clinton so far has not responded to several queries from this writer and others to tell what, if any, action he plans to take in the case.

Clinton's failure to act is puzzling. Federal officials have apologized or paid reparations for a litany of government improprieties and historic wrongs such as the Tuskegee syphilis victims, Japanese-Americans interned in detention camps during World War II, Phillipino and Vietnamese servicemen who assisted the U.S. military in World War II, and during the Vietnam war, as well as assorted individuals harmed by government misconduct.

The hope now is that NBC's "Mutiny" may move Clinton to correct this injustice. Time is running out. Many of the men have died and others are in badly failing health. It is important to them that their convictions be erased in part for them and their families sake. But in bigger part it is important because they loyally served their country and their only crime was being black in an era when black lives were degraded. A half century later this still may be too much to admit.

Phone, fax, or email your request for a presidential pardon for the Port Chicago defendants to:

President Bill Clinton
(202) 456-1414 (p)
(202) 456-2461 (f)
president@whitehouse.gov (e)

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black. mailto:ehutchi344@aol.com

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