Congressman George Miller’s legislation to improve management of the Port Chicago National Memorial in Concord, Calif., won approval by the House of Representatives on March 4, moving forward the effort to document and preserve the important events of the WWII historic site.
The Port Chicago National Memorial commemorates the worst home-front disaster of World War II. More than 300 sailors, most of whom were African American, died in a mysterious explosion while loading munitions on to ships bound for the Pacific front. A group of 50 African American sailors who refused to continue loading munitions after the explosion out of fear for their lives were later court-martialed.
“The massive explosion at Port Chicago more than 60 years ago and the events triggered by it helped lead to the desegregation of the U.S. Navy and represented a critical part of America’s civil rights movement,” said Rep. Miller, who represents the area of Port Chicago and has spearheaded congressional efforts for more than 15 years to ensure that the site is properly protected and recognized.
“While Congress already has ensured a memorial at Port Chicago, my new bill would provide further assurances to the sailors and their families that their stories will be preserved and that the site will be properly maintained for the benefit of present and future generations The new designation under this bill brings with it increased stature and, more importantly, the Park Service will be able to budget for the memorial’s needs.”
The March 4 approval followed a congressional hearing in September during which officials from the National Park Service, the Friends of Port Chicago, and the National Parks Conservation Association all testified in favor of the bill.
The bill will be sent to the Senate for further consideration.
The legislation directs the Secretary of the Interior to administer the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial as a unit of the National Park System. In order to improve public access to the Memorial, the legislation authorizes the Interior Department to work with the City of Concord and the East Bay Regional Park District to establish and operate a facility for visitor orientation and parking, administrative offices, and curatorial storage for the Memorial. The bill also directs the Defense Department and the Interior Department to work together to repair storm damage to the site, and provides for the eventual transfer of the property from the Defense Department to the Interior Department, should the military no longer need the facilities.
Congressman Miller has long championed the Port Chicago issue. He worked for more than a decade in Congress on behalf of the Port Chicago sailors and their families to preserve the historic site.
His legislation in 1992 first designated the site of the Port Chicago Naval Magazine as a national memorial, and his subsequent efforts led to the pardon of one of the Port Chicago sailors.