2017 Rebecca Caudill Roundup: The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

Back after a short end-of-school-year hiatus, I am sharing one 2017 Rebecca Caudill nominee each week, usually on Thursday.

portchicagoIf you’re looking for excellence in literary nonfiction, look no further than Steve Sheinkin. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights is the second book of his to make a Caudill list. Sheinkin is a former textbook writer who is atoning for “previous crimes” (his words) by sharing the exciting and important stories he “stashed away” during his years of research.

The Port Chicago 50 is a thoroughly researched book, and one which is sure to illuminate an important historic event for young and old readers alike. Sheinkin recounts what happened during World War II at California’s Port Chicago Naval Magazine. A group of African American Navy men survived a horrific explosion (that killed many others) and then refused to load ammunition onto ships due to fear of unsafe working conditions that might cause a similar disaster. Key to understanding this issue is that only African American sailors were given this job and that their superiors often bet money to see which divisions could load the fastest. Fifty men were imprisoned, tried for mutiny, found guilty, and imprisoned again after an unfair trial. However, their actions illuminated discriminatory practices in the U.S. Navy and lead to positive change. Sheinkin tells the story in a very readable and relatable way without downplaying the injustices these men endured. 

This stellar work won the 2014 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Nonfiction and was a National Book Award Finalist that same year. You can listen to Sheinkin share a passage from the book at the NBA Finalists’ Reading here:

 

Check out Roundup posts for other 2017 nominees here.

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