On Tuesday, June 1, 2021, the East Bay Regional Park District Board of Directors unanimously voted to name the new regional park at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station “Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50.”
The naming recognizes the history of the deadly Port Chicago explosion which killed 320 enlisted men, mostly African American, and injured 390 more, on July 17, 1944. The naming honors the bravery of the 50 service men who protested against the discriminatory policies of the segregated Navy including the unsafe and unjust working conditions. It also honors Thurgood Marshall whose advocacy and high-profile appeal on their behalf as an attorney for the NAACP led to the desegregation of the U.S. military. Marshall went on to argue the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which led to school desegregation nationwide. He became the first black U.S. Supreme Court Justice in 1967 and served for 24 years.
The naming of this park is itself historic as this is the first regional park in Contra Costa County to be named after an African American leader.
“The Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50 park name acknowledges this important Black American history and social justice significance,” said East Bay Regional Park District Board Director Beverley Lane who has represented Concord on the East Bay Regional Park District Board since 1994. “Thurgood Marshall brought national attention to the case that prompted the U.S. Secretary of the Navy to order desegregation of the U.S. Navy in 1946,” added Lane.
Several community organizations, including the NAACP and Friends of Port Chicago National Memorial supported the naming of the park in honor of Thurgood Marshall and the Port Chicago 50. The Park District’s citizen-led Parks Advisory Committee unanimously supported the name at its meeting on May 24. The City of Concord unanimously endorsed the park name at its May 29 City Council meeting.
“The new Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50 park name has both historical and representational significance,” said Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. “As a defender of the Port Chicago 50 in their historic fight against discrimination and wrongful conviction, Thurgood Marshall played an important role in their story. The trial, and Marshall’s role in it, helped to play a role in the desegregation of the Armed Forces. As the first African American Supreme Court justice, Marshall is more than deserving of this honor.”
The plan for the newly named park includes a joint visitor center with the National Park Service highlighting the history of the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial and the Diablo Valley, along with staging areas, and several miles of recreational trails for hiking, biking, and nature viewing. The future visitor center will tell the story of this important military story along with the stories of this land, including its agricultural history, natural history and restoration, and the stories of the Chupcan people who lived here.
“We appreciate all of the community’s input and engagement on this naming process, and we hope the support will continue as we work with our partners and elected officials to raise the funding needed to build a world-class visitor center in the park to tell these important stories,” said General Manager Sabrina Landreth.
The Park District is currently designing road improvements and plans to open a portion of the expansive park south of Bailey Road within the next two to three years. The U.S. Navy and National Park Service officially transferred the 2,500 acres of open space to the Park District in 2019 after a two-decade process brought about by the decommissioning of the Concord Naval Weapons Station in the 1990s.
The East Bay Regional Park District is the largest regional park system in the nation, comprising 73 parks, 55 miles of shoreline, and over 1,300 miles of trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and environmental education. The Park District receives more than 25 million visits annually throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the San Francisco Bay Area.