Teens Share Stories of Park History Learned in Youth Development Program

September 1, 2023

In August 2023, with support and guidance from Park District staff, 10 high school youth from People Who Care participated in the District’s Thurgood Marshall Youth Development Program, which aims to connect youth to the Regional Parks, learn about the location’s history, and create content to share stories and future possibilities of the parkland. Participants came from communities around Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50 in Concord. 

The Thurgood Marshall Youth Development Program was funded by the Regional Parks Foundation. Support Foundation programs.

Participants spent time at Thurgood Marshall Regional Park and learned about its history from Park District staff. Below is the series of stories with visuals that they created and posted on social media during the program.

The Port Chicago Disaster
Javier and Jesus

Just under 80 years ago and within 10 miles of our local community (of Pittsburg, CA), a deadly explosion and resulting events sparked nation-wide policy changes and contributed to the civil rights movement. 

On July 17, 1944 shortly after 10:18pm a large explosion felt for hundreds of miles killed 320 men and injured 390 more. The majority killed were Black enlisted men ordered to load ammunition without receiving proper training and safety precautions. After the explosion, many of the Black survivors were ordered to go clean up the remains, and a few weeks later were told to go back to work with no changes in safety practices. Fifty of the men said they would not go back to work until safety policies changed. They were put on trial for mutiny (defined by U.S. code in 1956 as refusing to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or create any violence or disturbance with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority.) Ultimately, these men, known as the Port Chicago 50, were found guilty for just saying no to unsafe working conditions. This event, resulting media attention, and following appeals ultimately led to desegregation of the military.
This all happened about 7 miles from my house and I had never heard of this history before. As an important part of local and national history, we hope that you will share this information so we can continue to make progress towards a more equitable future.

Thurgood Marshall’s Role
Julio, Megan, Ismael, and Christian

Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, holds important local connections to Eastern Contra Costa County and the greater East Bay. He is honored as part of the newest East Bay Regional Park’s namesake: Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50. 

From a very early age Thurgood Marshall was committed to fighting for the same basic rights for all. During his time as a civil rights lawyer for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), he worked long days and travelled around the country fighting for social justice. During the U.S. Navy’s largest mass mutiny trial, Thurgood Marshall supported the Port Chicago 50 and their families when 50 Black men were charged with mutiny following a deadly explosion at Port Chicago Naval Magazine. He updated the public on the events of the trial, later appealed the resulting mutiny charge, and led attempts to get the men’s names cleared for wrongful convictions. This case was known about nationally and sparked the desegregation of the Navy because of Thurgood Marshall’s work.

Here in Contra Costa County, we are all connected to Thurgood Marshall’s work because the Port Chicago explosion and following mutiny trial he helped spread awareness about happened in our community. One of the men who served in the Navy loading ammunition could have been our great grandpa. We were surprised that we learn about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., but had never heard of Thurgood Marshall and his role in civil rights right here in our community. 79 years later, we have a park dedicated to telling the stories of Thurgood Marshall’s work, the Port Chicago 50, and other stories of social justice connected to this land. We hope to share the story to bring awareness to the men who chose to fight for a change. 

The Future Park
Allison, Quintin, and Austin

Thurgood Marshall Regional Park: Home of the Port Chicago 50 is located on the land of the old Concord Naval Weapons Station. This area that was used for moving ammunition during wars will become a place I look forward to going to relax. This land was added to the U.S. Navy’s ammunition loading port in 1944 for safety and capacity after an enormous explosion at the waterfront portion of the base took the lives of 320 men and 390 more were injured, the largest home front disaster of WWII.

For over 60 years, the U.S. military used this area to move munitions for several wars. Not accessible to the public for decades, the surrounding community is now supporting a change to make this land a public park, making it open and accessible for all people to visit. Possibilities for changes include old magazines where ammunition was held being open so people can see how it looked and see pictures that tell the story of the history here, creative reuse of old buildings for new learning spaces, conversion of rails to trails, and shade structures, benches, and tables for people to eat and relax. What would you like to see in the new Thurgood Marshall Regional Park - Home of the Port Chicago 50?