The new park coming to the former Concord Naval Weapons Station will be named “Thurgood Marshall Regional Park — Home of the Port Chicago 50.”
The East Bay Regional Park District board of directors last week voted unanimously on the name.
“Truly, a historic moment,” board president Dee Rosario said after the 7-0 vote.
The 2,540-acre park will take up a little more than half of the massive redevelopment effort at the 5,046-acre site, which would also include 13,000 units of housing and millions of square feet of commercial space.
The Concord City Council — officially the local reuse authority of the former base — endorsed the name last month.
Nearby Port Chicago was where 320 sailors — mostly African American — died when unsafe conditions led to the explosion of two ammunition ships on July 17, 1944. Another 390 were wounded. The blast was strong enough to be felt in San Francisco.
While white sailors and officers were allowed to go on leave during the weeks after the explosion, Black sailors were tasked with cleaning up the aftermath. Shortly afterward, 50 African American sailors refused to go back to loading ships at nearby Mare Island Shipyard in Vallejo.
When they were charged with mutiny, future Supreme Couty Justice Thurgood Marshall — then lead attorney for the NAACP — advocated for them. Though they were convicted, Marshall used the case as a springboard to help end segregation in the military in 1948.
“It’s horrifying what happened, and its horrifying that it’s not more broadly known,” said board member Elizabeth Echols, “I think it’s so important to have this name, and have this park, that we can celebrate the courage of these men to protest, really risk their lives, to protest an unjust and racist system.”
The dangerous task loading of weapons was done exclusively by African American sailors at the base and was supervised by white commanders, who frequently pushed sailors to work harder. The disaster accounted for approximately a quarter of all African American deaths in World War II, according to a park district report.
Local U.S. Representative Mark Desaulnier (D-Walnut Creek) is requesting $10 million in federal funds to build a joint visitor center at the park, featuring the history of the Port Chicago disaster.
The city is currently going through the process of finding a master developer for the project, hoping to do so by August.