Congressman George Miller (D-Martinez) participated Saturday in the dedication ceremony of America’s newest national park — the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial Park — on the 66th anniversary of the munitions explosion that took place there. Miller, whose legislation created the park, joined National Park Service officials, the Friends of Port Chicago, and members of the public to honor the anniversary and park dedication.
Since the early 1990s, Miller has spearheaded successful efforts to create the Port Chicago memorial, and now the national park, in recognition of the historic and tragic events that occurred there. In 1992, Miller championed the original legislation that designated the site as a national memorial. Since that time, the memorial has been managed by the National Park Service.
“The National Park Service is the caretaker of some of the most important pieces of our history,” Miller said. “We now place the compelling and important history associated with Port Chicago firmly in their capable hands.
“Port Chicago is not just a place – it is a powerful story,” Miller added. “It is a story about courage, conflict, racial discrimination and the struggle to overturn it. It is the story of African American contributions to the homefront effort during WWII. It is a story that is important for generations of Americans to understand. Through the establishment of this new national park, we preserve that history and make it more accessible for people to appreciate — today and for generations to come.”
On July 17, 1944, an explosion ripped through the Port Chicago Naval Magazine, killing 320 sailors, the majority of whom were African American. After the explosion, African American sailors refused to resume loading munitions onto ships bound for the Pacific Theatre for fear of a subsequent explosion. Fifty of those sailors were tried for mutiny. The sailors received support from attorney Thurgood Marshall, who later went on to become a member the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The munitions detonation at Port Chicago, the so-called mutiny, and the subsequent legal cases are a significant part of our nation’s struggle for civil rights and rightly helped lead to the desegregation of the US Navy,” said Miller before the Saturday event. “I look forward to the celebration on Saturday and the reunion of families from across the country who have been directly touched by this powerful experience.”
Miller thanked the Friends of Port Chicago, the City of Concord, the East Bay Regional Park District and the National Parks Conservation Association for their support of the Port Chicago National Memorial.
The Friends of Port Chicago presented Miller with The Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial Commemorative Heroes Award. The award “salutes Congressman George Miller with deep appreciation and in recognition of his heroic leadership in creating America’s 392nd National Park so that the tragic events of July 17, 1944 will forever be remembered.”
Miller’s legislation to establish the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial Park was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009. The legislation designated the memorial and the five acres that encompass the Port Chicago Naval Magazine blast site as an official unit of the National Park Service. Previously, the memorial was considered only an “affiliated area” of the park service and no federal money could be spent on education, historic preservation, or efforts to increase public awareness. This official designation granted allows the park service to appropriate funds, care for the memorial and increase access for future generations.
More information about the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial Park is available at http://www.nps.gov/poch/.