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Play Tells the Story of the Tragedy at Port Chicago during World War II

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More than 300 sailors, about 200 of whom were Black, were killed in 1944 while loading bombs onto a ship without proper training

In July of 1944, 320 sailors, 202 of whom were Black, were killed in an explosion at Port Chicago, a munitions naval base near San Francisco. They were loading ammunition onto ships. They were untrained, and one of the bombs blew up. Fifty of the survivors refused to go back to work under the same conditions. They were court-martialed and convicted of mutiny.

A play called Port Chicago 50 tells their story. Dennis Rowe co-wrote the play and directed it recently at the Soho Playhouse.

“Before they hit the stage we talk about it and just remind ourselves that we’re telling their story, so there’s always an emotional aspect to it,” he said.

In writing the play Rowe talked to family members of the men, including the son of the only sailor to receive a presidential pardon.

“We talked to Darrell Meeks, who was the son of Freddie Meeks, the only sailor who was pardoned, he was pardoned by President Clinton,” said Rowe.

Rowe said many of the men didn’t tell their families about what happened till much later in life and that family members who see the show learn a lot.

“Coming to the show they get a real feeling of what their ancestor, father, grandfather, grand uncle, whatever it was, actually did,” said Rowe.

Janice Kirkel is a lifelong award-winning journalist who has done everything from network newscasts to national and local sports reports to business newscasts to specialized reporting and editing in technical areas of business and finance such as bankruptcy, capital structure changes and reporting on the business of the investment business.