On this day July 17, 1944
Near the San Francisco Bay, two ships laden with ammunition for the war explode in Port Chicago, California, killing 320. Most of the dead and injured were enlisted African-American sailors.
A month later, continuing unsafe conditions inspired hundreds of servicemen to refuse to load munitions, an act known as the Port Chicago Mutiny. Fifty men, called the Port Chicago 50, were convicted of mutiny and sentenced to long prison terms. Forty-seven of the 50 were released in January 1946; the remaining three served additional months in prison.
During and after the trial, questions were raised about the fairness and legality of the court-martial proceedings. Due to public pressure, the United States Navy reconvened the courts-martial board in 1945; the court affirmed the guilt of the convicted men.
Widespread publicity surrounding the case turned it into a cause célèbre among African Americans and white Americans; it and other race-related Navy protests of 1944–1945 led the Navy to change its practices and initiate desegregation of its forces beginning in February 1946. In 1994, the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial was dedicated to the lives lost in the disaster.