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Allen (Dr. Robert) Port Chicago Papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access to Collection
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Arrangement
  • Background and History
  • Processing Information
  • Related Materials
  • Scope and Contents
  • Copyright and Restrictions

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: National Park Service
    Title: Dr. Robert Allen Port Chicago Papers
    creator: Allen, Robert L., 1942-
    Identifier/Call Number: POCH.26
    Physical Description: 16.8 linear feet 34 boxes, 2 oversize boxes
    Date (inclusive): 1939-2015
    Date (bulk): 1944-1945
    Date (bulk): 1977-2002
    Language of Material: Collection materials are in English.

    Access to Collection

    Collection is open for research; access requires at least 24 hours advance notice.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Gift of Robert L. Allen in 2017.


    Arranged into three series:
    Series 1: Research and Publication files
    Series 2: Appeals, Commemorations and Derivative Work files
    Series 3: Photographs and Audiovisual materials
    Series are arranged as follows:
    Series 1: Research and Publication files have two subseries, Research and Publication, and are arranged chronologically within each series, with correspondence first and clippings at end.
    Series 2: Appeals, Commemorations and Derivative Works has three subseries, Appeals for Exoneration and Pardons, Commemorations and Derivative Works, all arranged chronologically within each series with correspondence first and clippings at end.
    Series 3: Photographs and Audiovisual materials have two subseries, Photographics and Audiovisual materials, and are sub-divided by media type and arranged chronologically within each series.

    Background and History

    Dr. Robert L. Allen Biography
    Dr. Robert L. Allen is a writer, educator and civil rights activist who wrote and published a number of influential books on racial equality and gender social justice issues. His publications include Black Awakening in Capitalist America, The Port Chicago Mutiny and Reluctant Reformers: Racism and Social Reform Movements in the U.S. Allen has contributed numerous articles to anthologies and textbooks, held editorial posts at The Black Scholar, partnered with Alice Walker in 1984 to launch the independent Wild Trees Press and has been a university educator and administrator.
    Allen was born on May 29, 1942 in Atlanta, Georgia to Robert Allen, a mechanic, and Sadie (Sims) Allen, a teacher and academic administrator. Growing up in racially segregated Atlanta, Allen was deeply impacted by the brutal killing and lynching of Emmett Till in 1955. This event greatly informed his view on racial discrimination and societal injustices and when Allen entered Morehouse College in 1958, he participated in the protests and marches of the burgeoning civil rights movement. After graduating with a B.S. from Morehouse in 1963, Allen worked in investigative journalism with The Guardian newspaper in New York City while actively protesting against the Vietnam War. He pursued a master’s degree in sociology at Columbia University, obtaining an M.A. from the New School for Social Research in New York in 1976.
    Allen’s teaching career began at San Jose State University in 1969 in the newly formed African American Studies program. In 1973, he was appointed assistant professor and head of the Ethnic Studies Department at Mills College in Oakland, California. Later, Allen taught in University of California at Berkeley’s African American Studies and Ethnic Studies department from 1993-2013, serving as Adjunct Professor of African American and Ethnic Studies for the second half of his tenure and advising graduate students.
    In the mid-1970s, Allen began his inquiry into the historic Port Chicago explosion and mutiny trial, upon discovering a pamphlet published in 1945 titled “Remember Port Chicago?” while researching an article about wartime racism and discrimination of blacks in the Navy. Allen investigated the events of the story that unfolded 30 years prior and decided to focus his Ph.D thesis on the topic of exposing the discrimination as well as the collective memory and stress caused by the event. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship toward the research in 1977 and spent several years conducting original research, interviewing and writing about the events of Port Chicago, before receiving his Ph.D. in sociology from University of California at San Francisco in 1983.
    The first edition of The Port Chicago Mutiny was published by Amistad Press in 1989 with a revised edition published in 2006 by the Equal Justice Society of San Francisco, California and Heyday Books of Berkeley, California. Dr. Allen’s book and the scholarly research he uncovered during the writing process, has served as the basis for several documentary and live-action films, television and radio news programs and newspaper and magazine articles, numerous student papers and documentaries, and an original recording composed by Marcus Shelby and performed by the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra.
    Allen is the recipient of many awards, fellowships and honors, including a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (1963), a Guggenheim Fellowship to support research on The Port Chicago Mutiny (1977), a Resolution of Commendation by the California State Assembly for The Port Chicago Mutiny research (1990), a Northern California Emmy Award for The Port Chicago Mutiny television documentary (1991), and an American Book Award (1995), shared with Brotherman co-editor, Herb Boyd.
    Port Chicago
    The United States Naval Magazine, Port Chicago, was formally established by an order of the Secretary of the Navy on June 27, 1942 in Port Chicago, California, and was commissioned on November 30, 1942. The Port Chicago Naval Magazine was designed to receive munitions by rail and load them from the railway cars directly into seagoing vessels and barges. At this time, the Navy operated under a deeply entrenched segregated system, with all white commanding officers. All of the African-American enlisted men assigned to the Port Chicago Naval Magazine had been trained in one of the naval ratings, although they were ordered to load munitions onto the ships.
    The Port Chicago Naval Magazine munitions explosion occurred on July 17, 1944, causing the deaths of 320 sailors and civilians and injuring approximately 400, and resulting in World War II’s worst home front disaster. Most of the enlisted men who were killed and maimed were African-American and when the survivors were ordered to return to work a month after the explosion, some of the sailors refused to perform their duties due to unsafe and unfair working conditions. Because the work stoppage occured within the military the men were charged with mutiny (as opposed to it being deemed a labor strike).
    The Port Chicago Naval Magazine court martial trial followed, beginning September 22, 1944 and concluding on October 24, 1944, wherein 50 men, known as “The Port Chicago 50”, were convicted of mutiny, sentenced to 15 years of prison with hard labor, and given dishonorable discharges. During the last two weeks of the trial, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund’s chief counsel Thurgood Marshall sat in on the proceedings and began formulating appeals for the accused. With the war coming to an end by September 1945, it became more difficult for the Navy to justify such severe sentences and subsequently 47 of the 50 men were released by January 1946. The case was widely publicized and consequently, protests and public pressure resulted in the Navy’s decision to begin desegregation of its forces in February 1946. The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial was established in 1992 as an NPS-affiliated area subsequently being established as a designated unit of the national park system in 2009. Although survivor Freddie Meeks was pardoned by by President Bill Clinton in 1999, efforts to exonerate all of the convicted men of the Port Chicago 50 continue.

    Processing Information

    The Robert L. Allen Port Chicago papers were processed by Lisa Monhoff, archivist at The Bancroft Library, as part of a collabortative National Park Service funded project in 2017-2018.

    Related Materials

    Dr. Robert L. Allen Civil Rights papers at The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (BANC MSS 2017/193)

    Scope and Contents

    The Dr. Robert L. Allen Port Chicago papers contain materials collected in the process of researching and writing about the events of the Port Chicago Naval Magazine explosion and mutiny trial, and the impact on the appeals and commemoration process following the publication of The Port Chicago Mutiny: The Story of the Largest Mass Mutiny Trial in U.S. Naval History. Includes documentation of Allen’s Ph.D thesis work, publication of his Port Chicago article in The Black Scholar, manuscript drafts and editorial correspondence regarding publication of his book The Port Chicago Mutiny, and the post-publication impact including advocating and organizing for appeals, commemorations, memorials, events and derivative educational works. The collection is divided into three series: Research and Publication files; Appeals, Commemorations and Derivative Work files; and Photographs and Audiovisual materials.

    Copyright and Restrictions

    The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted materials. The various state privacy acts govern the use of materials that document private individuals, groups, and corporations.
    Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish a reproduction if the document does not infringe the privacy rights of an individual, group, or corporation. These specified conditions of authorized use include: • non-commercial and non-profit study, scholarship, or research, or teaching • criticism, commentary, or news reporting • as a NPS preservation or security copy • as a research copy for deposit in another institution. If a user later uses a copy or reproduction for purposes in excess of "fair use," the user may be personally liable for copyright, privacy, or publicity infringement. This institution's permission to obtain a photographic, xerographic, digital, or other copy of a document doesn't indicate permission to publish, exhibit, perform, reproduce, sell, distribute, or prepare derivative works from this document without first obtaining permission from the copyright holder and from any private individual, group, or corporation shown or otherwise recorded.
    Permission to publish, exhibit, perform, reproduce, prepare derivative works from, sell, or otherwise distribute the item must be obtained by the user separately in writing from the holder of the original copyright (or if the creator is dead from his/her heirs) as well as from any individual(s), groups, or corporations whose name, image, recorded words, or private information (e.g., employment information) may be reproduced in the source material. The holder of the original copyright isn't necessarily the National Park Service. The National Park Service is not legally liable for copyright, privacy, or publicity infringement when materials are wrongfully used after being provided to researchers for "fair use."
    This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept a copying order if fulfillment of the order is judged in violation of copyright or federal or state privacy or publicity law.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Port Chicago Mutiny, Port Chicago, Calif., 1944
    Port Chicago Naval Magazine (Port Chicago, Calif.)
    Port Chicago Mutiny Trial, San Francisco, Calif., 1944
    World War, 1939-1945 -- African Americans
    Allen, Robert L., 1942-
    United States. Navy. African Americans