I originally received an ARC of this book at ALA Annual in Chicago (2013?). It came with the purchase of the author’s previous (first?) book: Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon. Somehow, I ended up not reading it, and then I gave most of my ARCs to the library to give to the patrons (I heard that one girl looked at the books on the table and asked, “I can really take it? And keep it?”). So, then the book showed back up in my life as a finalist on the YALSA Nonfiction Award list. I knew so little about this book that I thought it took place in Chicago (I still blame boring history teachers and texts for my glaring lack of knowledge on many history topics.)
I’m glad this book insisted on being read. It the story of 50 men, who were put in an unsafe situation, blamed when things went bad, and treated unfairly when they refused to return to the same situation. Because they were black, these men were found guilty of mutiny, a charge that was never expunged. It shows a military that was highly segregated, extremely racist, and reflective of the larger community.
This was another well put together book and was a pleasure just to hold. Pictures from the time of events were mixed with more recent pictures of the men in the book. I was pulled in right away, and though I could guess at their fate, I really did hope it would end differently. The story is well-told, engaging. The photos give life to the men and their story. The story, it personalizes the bigger events that were going on in the world, the larger fight for equal rights.
There was a bit of personal connection, and outrage, at the events in the book. I come from a heavily Navy family. I remember my mom being intolerant of any racism in her presence, and I remember that she always attributed it to her father’s teaching her that race didn’t matter in the Navy. It’s good to remember that it wasn’t always that way, and even in my grandfather’s time, he may have served with a better segment of the Navy. He may have idealized it for his young daughter, to teach her a lesson. The video below shows footage of the aftermath of the explosion. I wouldn’t want to go back either.
Title: The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
Author: Steve Sheinkin
Age level: YA, middle school and up.
Who I would give this book to: I think this would be a great book for the student’s coming in that need a book report for African American Heritage Month assignments. It’s a great book, and at just over 200 pages it’s long enough for the teacher but not so long as to turn off the reluctant reader.
Setting: WWII American, mostly west coast
Favorite Character: The men who quietly made a stand for their safety and for fairness. They didn’t go into the situation with any plan of great change, but it was only of the early dominoes to fall in the process of military desegregation.
Favorite Moment: Anytime that the prosecuting attorney was shown to be wrong.
Rating: 3 stars
Book Source: Library