Event: Bancroft Round Table

The final Bancroft Round Table of the Fall 2012 Semester will take place on Thursday, November 15th at noon in the Lewis-Latimer Room of the Faculty Club. Javier Arbona, PhD candidate in the UC Berkeley Department of Geography and Bancroft Study Award Recipient, will present “It was a Bloody Mess: Vallejo’s 1942 race revolts and the Port Chicago strike.”

This talk offers a history of a little-known chapter of the World War II home front, the 1942 “race riots” in Vallejo, California, and efforts to record these so-called riots in art and writing. This episode is significant because, among other reasons, it exposes some of the underlying conditions for the Port Chicago sailors’ strike at the same Vallejo barracks, and shows a larger pattern that set the stage for the 1944 mutiny trial against African American sailor-strikers under the same naval command.

The Port Chicago explosion is considered the worst home front disaster during World War II. On July 17, 1944, over 5,000 tons of munitions detonated while a ship was being loaded at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine, near Martinez. 320 enlisted personnel and civilian employees were instantly killed, and 390 were injured. Most of those who died were African American sailors loading bombs under segregation. The site is marked with U.S. National Park and Federal Memorial.

Learning about racial tensions that flared two years before this tragedy will help us grasp a context missing in popular understanding of the African American work stoppage that ensued after the explosion.

David Kessler, Baiba Strads, Bancroft Staff