Joe Small | Interview 1 | July 21, 1980

Oral History Center, UC Berkeley

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0:00 - Being drafted into the Navy / Going to Port Chicago and working as winch operator

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Keywords: ammunition; Army; draft; Ernest Delucchi; job description; Lieutenant Ernest Delucchi; Naval Station Great Lakes; Navy; ranks; safety procedures; training; winch; work detail

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

6:22 - Hard work during loading / Officers betting on their divisions

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Keywords: conditions; divisions; loading; Naval culture; Navy; segregation; tonnage; work detail; work pace

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

11:00 - Liberty time / Public transportation to surrounding cities

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Keywords: Bay Area; Berkeley, California; military leave & liberty; Oakland, California; Pittsburg, California; public transportation; rotating shifts; San Francisco, California

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

14:26 - No training and back breaking labor

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Keywords: ammunition; conditions; grievances; petty officers; privilege; training; work detail; work pace

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

19:25 - Becoming the unofficial spokesperson for grievances and conditions

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Keywords: Admiral Wright; explosion; Lieutenant Ernest Delucci; Navy; racism; ranks; seaman

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

26:46 - Court proceedings and mutiny charge

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Keywords: court proceedings; court testimony; explosion; Lieutenant Ernest Delucci; Matthew Miller; mutiny charge

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

33:50 - Port Chicago fund

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Keywords: censorship; court proceedings; NAACP; Port Chicago fund; Thurgood Marshall

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

37:23 - Lack of mention in history books

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Keywords: black history; integration; John Hope Franklin; military history; Negro handbook

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

39:34 - Assertive men in the group / Bunk prank

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Keywords: court proceedings; Cyril Sheppard; Julius Dixson; Ollie Green; pranks; Wideman

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

45:39 - Petition about grievances / Punishments

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Keywords: grievances; Lieutenant Ernest Delucci; military leave & liberty; petition; punishments

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

49:49 - Segregation in nearby cities

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Keywords: Berkeley, California; Black Diamond Street; Club Seven; Fillmore District; military leave & liberty; Oakland, California; Pittsburg, California; rotating shifts; San Francisco, California; segregation; Seventh Street

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

52:36 - Destruction from the explosion

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Keywords: carnage; explosion; rotating shifts; SS E.A.Bryan; SS Mormactern; SS Quinault Victory; The Wormington

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

56:14 - Confinement, rehabilitation, and discharge

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Keywords: discharge; Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island; guard duty; incarceration; Okinawa, Japan; racism; San Diego, California; San Pedro Federal Penitentiary; Seattle, Washington; sentencing

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II

62:30 - Experiences of discrimination / Friendships

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Keywords: Admiral Wright; Cyril Sheppard; Edward Waldrop; Julius Dixson; Lieutenant Ernest Delucchi; Massachusetts; Navy; racism; safety; San Francisco, California; seaman; Seattle, Washington; work discrimination

Subjects: Community and Identity Port Chicago World War II


ALLEN: Right, what I'll do is -- I'll transcribe the interview myself, and then when I write it up for my dissertation, I will send you a copy for your okay. If I want to use any quotes. If there's any problem, I'll just paraphrase it or if you don't want to use it at all, we can do that. Okay. Why don't we get started here. This is your home right?

SMALL: Yes, in this vicinity, not in Somerset, we're from New Brunswick which is 1:00across the highway.

ALLEN: How is it that you went into the Navy in the first place?

SMALL: Well, I was drafted. And the Navy was a by chance situation, because it was two of us, close friends. And when we went through our physical the doctor asked us which one wants to go in the Army and neither one of us answered. He just grabbed a stamp and went "bam." He looked at it and says, "Alright, move out soldier." My buddy happened to be ahead of me and so he got the Army I got the Navy. That's the way I got into it. I didn't choose to be in it. I'm glad that I got into the Navy after I found out what life in the Army consisted of. I'm glad that I got the Navy.

ALLEN: So you then went to Great Lakes naval training?


SMALL: Yes, Camp Roberts Small.

ALLEN: What year was that?

SMALL: '43 -- June or July.

ALLEN: So you were there for six weeks of training.

SMALL: Yeah, six weeks I don't know exactly what date I left, but when I left there I came home for leave then I went back then they shipped me out to Port Chicago.

ALLEN: So you went there directly from Great Lakes.


ALLEN: Did you have any expectations that you were going to sea? Did you have any idea that you would be going to Port Chicago as opposed to going to sea?

SMALL: Well, no. See they really--they refused to give us any information as to our destination. That time there was this slogan going around, "Slip of the lip will sink a ship." For that reason we didn't know where we were going. We didn't 3:00know whether we were going overseas, we wound up at Port Chicago, and we only found that out after we arrived there. We were in their work battalion at Port Chicago. The work there was landing ships with ammunition and weapons for review shipment.

ALLEN: You were in the Fourth Division. That was with [Ernest] Delucchi.

SMALL: Yeah.

ALLEN: And so you were in the Fourth Division from the very beginning then. From August 1943?

SMALL: Just about middle part of '43 to after the explosion which was July 14, 1944.


ALLEN: Actually I think it's July seventh. So you were actually involved in the loading from the very beginning.

SMALL: Oh yeah, I was a winch operator. We took the ammunition from box cars and transferred it to the ship.

ALLEN: Did they have facilities for training you at Port Chicago or did you just pick that up?

SMALL: Well, I was always adaptive at handling machines. Anything I saw or anybody else do, after ten minutes I could pick it up myself. I got into that as I have many jobs since then, the winch operator got sick he went down in the hold to sleep and I just took his job. When the petty officer came back he found 5:00me at the controls. He says, "Where's Harry?" "Harry got sick." He watched me for a few minutes, and that's how I got the job.

ALLEN: In your view, what were the safety procedures like?

SMALL: There weren't any. Let me describe our methods to you. The boxcar come in on the tracks in the center of the dock. They would open the door and the bombs would be stacked -- four, five, or six high inside the car. And they would put a ramp from the bottom of the top layer down to the dock. They would hang mats on the side of the ship. And the men would turn the bombs and roll them down the 6:00ramp and they would hit this mat beside the ship. Somebody would throw a piece of dunnage to keep it from rolling back to the ramp again. Then they would roll it around and roll it on the wire net. After we got the net loaded with four or five bombs, we lifted into the ship.

ALLEN: Were there officers around during the loading?

SMALL: Well, that's hard to say yes or no, because they would show up periodically to check on the tonnage that was going abroad and how the work was progressing. But to say that an officer was constantly there -- no. We had a petty officer -- usually a third class petty officer or second class petty officer -- that was over the actual work. Lieutenant Delucchi was over our 7:00division. He was very seldom there.

ALLEN: What about the pace of the work itself. Was it very fast or varied or what?

SMALL: Well, we were pushed. Let me say it this way: they used to bet -- pit one division against the other. And the officers themselves used to bet on their division, putting on more tonnage on the ship than the other divisions. I often heard them argue what division was beating the others in a prescribed length of time. So we were pushed by the petty officers to get the tonnage in.

ALLEN: And you were, in turn, pushed by the officers.

SMALL: And we were, in turn, pushed by the officers.

ALLEN: And this had been going on from the beginning?

SMALL: Oh, yes, it was going on from the time we arrived there. See the only 8:00white men on that base was lieutenant and up. Everything below lieutenant was black. So that made it a segregated base. And you were the ones doing the work. The lieutenant would say, "I bet my division will put on more in eight hours than yours will." I don't know what they used as a wager but I used to hear them making the wager.

ALLEN: Did they offer any kind of reward or inducement to the enlisted men to speed up the loading?

SMALL: Well, rather than being an inducement to speed up the loading it was a lack of punishment was your reward; in other words, if you didn't put on as much 9:00as he thought you should put on, then your liberty was canceled, or your liberty was cut short. There was no extra liberty for doing more work. But you lost privileges if you didn't.

ALLEN: Do you recall seeing a bulletin board that was put up somewhere around the pier in which they posted the tonnage every day?


ALLEN: Because I came across it in testimony from this captain, Kenny, in which he had admitted that he put up a bulletin board. There was some testimony about this whole thing, the competition and racing. And they've denied it, the officers did. But he admitted that he put up this bulletin board which he posted the tonnage every day. Some of the lieutenants said that they took that to mean that they were being encouraged by him to compete, get as much tonnage as possible.

SMALL: I don't remember having seen that. Now, I do remember that there was a 10:00bulletin board at the front gate.

ALLEN: To the whole base, but not to the actual pier?

SMALL: No it was at the front gate, entrance to the whole base. Well the whole base was the same thing. The whole base was a working depot. How can I say it... anything that was at the front gate was specifically meant for us, and it dealt with us. There was no other men there, other than the men that loaded the ships.

ALLEN: Right. Okay.

SMALL: I mean in as much as where a base might consist of a fighter battalion, or a guard battalion, or a cavalry battalion, all on the same base. Everything on this base was a working battalion.


ALLEN: What was the state of the relations between the officers and the men? Were there much problems?

SMALL: Well, there was a lot of problems, but we weren't in a position to do anything about them. The base was muddy; there was no recreational facilities there. We waded in mud ankle-deep.

ALLEN: What about the town itself -- the little town of Port Chicago? Was there anything there?

SMALL: No, nothing. We went to Oakland, San Francisco, and to Pittsburgh. Port Chicago was a town where you went to catch the bus. There was nothing there; recreation-wise, there was nothing.

ALLEN: Could you go into cafes or anything that were in the town, or was it 12:00strictly segregated?

SMALL: Well, now I don't know. Because I never, in the whole time I was there I don't believe I went to Port Chicago for anything but to catch a bus.

ALLEN: But you could get a bus from there to say Oakland or Pittsburgh? Was that Navy provided?

SMALL: No that was public transportation. The Navy ran a bus from Port Chicago to the base. And we would ride the Navy bus to Port Chicago. And then we would catch public transportation.

ALLEN: Okay. So you would work in an eight-hour shift, and you'd have some liberty time or, what was the set up there?

SMALL: Well depending on what shift you worked. See I mean if we worked the day shift then we had we usually had liberty that night. We were free until 13:005:00-5:30 the next morning, when reveille sounded. But if we worked, say the second shift from four to twelve, then we weren't allowed out. Or if we worked the midnight shift, from twelve to eight in the morning, we were allowed out 'til eight or nine that night. We had to be back in. So your liberty depended on what shift you went in.

ALLEN: I guess that wasn't really that much time to go off very far?

SMALL: Oh no. Well, if you went to Oakland or Frisco or Berkeley. I mean it was an hour and a half ride to Oakland. They had scheduled buses leaving Oakland coming back to Port Chicago just to bring servicemen. A special bus for us. It 14:00was public transportation, but it was especially for us. And the last bus out of Pittsburg was 1:30 in the morning. Last bus out of Oakland was around 2:00-2:15. Those buses would get you back to Port Chicago in time for reveille.

ALLEN: Was there any kind of training given to the men for this work at Port Chicago at all?

SMALL: No, no training. Actually there wasn't any training necessary. It was just back breaking labor. The only skill necessary was in shoring up the ammunition in the hold of the ship. And they had the ship's carpenters do that. 15:00Our job was to unload the boxcar and get it in the hold of the ship. And then they had a crew that could place it where the carpenters wanted it. There was no skill there other than operating the winch.

ALLEN: Did the men have any specific grievances?

SMALL: Yeah, we had plenty of grievances. I mean, eating conditions, the recreational facilities, there was nothing there. We had plenty grievances, but we talked about it among ourselves. It was never brought to any demonstration.

ALLEN: There was no possibility of bringing it to the attention of higher authority or getting any kind of changes?

SMALL: Well, I'll tell you something. At that time we considered our position 16:00almost the norm. You know what I mean, I mean the Navy up to that time had no black people in it. And being in the Navy, being able to sleep between white sheets and have three square meals a day, three hot meals a day, this was a privilege that the black men hadn't enjoyed; and so we didn't put up much of a squawk about it. I was next in command to the petty officer. I was unofficially the division leader, because the petty officer we had were incompetent, and the men depended on me more than they depended on the petty officers. And I was a first class seaman. That is why after the explosion I was placed in the breach 17:00for the whole thing because they considered me more the leader than they did the petty officers.

ALLEN: Wiley and Gay were petty officers?

SMALL: But their concern for the men was nothing. And I was the one that mingled with the men and the one that they looked to when they had a grievance. They came to me about it and I couldn't do anything about it but go to the petty officers, and that's where it died. So when the explosion came and the question was asked, are you going back to work? Well the lieutenant, he asked me first because I welded marched in banks. I assumed the position of cadence caller, they accepted. I marched outside of banks and called cadence. When the men had a grievance they come to me, and when it was time to get up in the morning I woke 18:00them up because the petty officers come through shouting things like "Get your hands off your cocks and put on your socks!" That was one of their favorite. Then, if you were slow getting out of bed, they would grab the mattress and dump you out of bed. They used their weight a lot. And being black, the men didn't appreciate that. They didn't think this was necessary; coming from a white man, they would have accepted that, seriously nothing wrong with it. But from one of our own color, we wouldn't accept it. So they more or less accepted me as the division leader. So when Lieutenant Delucchi asked the question, "Small, will 19:00you return to work?" I said no. Somebody over in the ranks said, "If Small don't go, we're not going either."

ALLEN: When was that -- that was after the explosion?

SMALL: After the explosion. We were at --

ALLEN: Shoemaker?

SMALL: Shoemaker. We expected this to come. The morning that they broke us out in ranks and we marched out toward the drill field, see we had to make a turn, to turn right you were going to the drill field, turn left meant you were going to the docks. And so when we got to this intersection, the command came "column left" and everybody stopped -- turning different ways. So I was calling cadence, 20:00and Lieutenant Delucchi called me to the front and he said, "Small are you going back to work?" I said, "No." Said, "Why?" "Because I'm afraid." That was a lie. I wasn't afraid. But I knew the situation under which we had worked, and it hadn't been changed. So I wasn't going. I had made up my mind that I wasn't going back to work under these conditions. Somebody yelled in the ranks if Small's not going we're not going either. So that made me the spokesman. And it had been that way ever since we'd been at Port Chicago. I was more or less the spokesman.

ALLEN: So you had discussed it with them before the actual situation and you were ordered to?

SMALL: Well, not discussed it, as much as men had come to me and told me what they intended to do. And I hadn't asked anybody. [Small introduces his wife to 22:0021:00Allen] Anyhow they had come to me, explained the situation, and asked me what was I going to do about it. I told them I'm not going back, and that was it. So I think it was about five or six that knew what I was going to do. And it was one of these five or six that said if Small don't go we're not going either. So then they separated the men, all that would go, stand fast. The ones that refused to go, move out. So everybody moved out. They picked fifty out of the 250 to court martial

ALLEN: And the other men were given summary?


SMALL: I don't know. I'm gonna tell you I don't know what they got. I heard that some of them went back to work, some of them returned to the dock, and some of them that didn't return to work received light sentences.

ALLEN: Did you expect the mutiny charge?

SMALL: No, that was a surprise. Well, see this mutiny charge came up after I talked with Admiral --

ALLEN: Admiral Wright.

SMALL: Wright. I talked to him and he explained to me that I was the one that the men would follow. If I return to work, the rest of the men would. So I told him I wouldn't return to work under the conditions under which he worked. I found out, during my stay there, that $250,000 had been appropriate for 24:00modernization of the base. And that $250,000 had disappeared. {inaudible} Now, immediately after the explosion they went to work on the base, and between the time, we did sixteen months at San Diego, but when we got a chance to go back to the base, the base was modern they had modern facilities there, bowling alley, movie house, paved streets. But when we were there, there was nothing. We had curbs. And we walked on the curb from our barracks we walked across the board to 25:00the curb and walked down the curb, and then waded through the mud to go to the mess hall. No sidewalks no streets, just a curb. So I told him under the conditions that I worked I wouldn't go back. So he said, "If you don't go back to work, I'm gonna have you shot." And then I lost my temper. I said, "You could go ahead and shoot me, 'cause I'm not going back." And it was after this that the mutiny charge came up.

ALLEN: Was this a private meeting with him, or was that the meeting on the ball field where he came out and spoke to all the men?

SMALL: No, this was a private meeting, he and I in his office.

ALLEN: What's the $250,000, how did you find out about that?

SMALL: It was scuttlebutt going around to me that this had been appropriated. 26:00And all the men believed it because it was obvious that this should have been done.

ALLEN: Hadn't they just started construction on a new recreation building or something around the time of the explosion or -- ?

SMALL: After the explosion. After the explosion they started construction on this recreation building that had a bowling alley in it, swimming pool, movie house, movie theater and everything was in it. But nothing was done prior to the explosion. And the explosion is what opened everything up. If it had not been for the explosion, I doubt that anything would have been done. When this explosion occurred, then it opened everything up. Incidentally that explosion was predicted about months before it happened.

ALLEN: Who predicted it?

SMALL: I did. Everybody there knew it was coming. I used to tell Lieutenant Delucchi -- I said, "Lieutenant, one of these days this base is going to blow 27:00sky high." He said, "Well, if it does. You won't know anything about it. Don't worry about it." That was his answer. And you'll find that in the records of the court martial.

ALLEN: In what -- in your testimony?

SMALL: In my testimony, you'll find that in the records of the court martial. Unless they struck it from the records. Beause a lot of the things that I said in my testimony was struck from the records as being what's the word they use --

ALLEN: Did you get a copy of the record?

SMALL: Yes, every one of us had a copy of the record. That thing was so cumbersome there was no place for us to protect it and they wouldn't let us mail it home. I wanted to mail mine home for safekeeping and they wouldn't let us mail it. It got destroyed during my travels. I wish I could have kept it, I 28:00wanted to, I wanted to preserve it and have it made into a book -- [interruption] The testimony -- a lot of the testimony that I gave during the trial was stricken from the records, struck from the records as being what's the word they use, not unimportant --

ALLEN: Irrelevant?

SMALL: Irrelevant, yeah. So, a lot of the things that went on between the men prior to this trial was not up to par -- and I admit that they had us billeted 29:00on a barge, and the barge was built to house about seventy-five or eighty men. There was 250 of us on one. And we had several men among us that was hot tempered and fought easily and carried concealed weapons, carried knives and things. And several incidents on the way to the mess hall, they marched us to the mess hall in groups and one guard got stabbed at night and they never found out who did it --

ALLEN: This was after the explosion?

SMALL: After the explosion, yes.

ALLEN: So, that was what? August ninth, about three, four days? On the barge.

SMALL: So they came to me, and they asked me if I could do anything about the conduct of the men, because they said they didn't want to shoot any of us. And they armed the guards and they said, "Now the slightest provocation, we will 30:00shoot." So they asked me to talk to the men.

ALLEN: Who asked you?

SMALL: It was a guard officer. I don't know who he was.

ALLEN: A white guy?

SMALL: It was a white guy, yes.

ALLEN: The guards were, the shore patrol was black, and the Marine guards were white. Is that right?

SMALL: The shore patrol was mixed. But all of the Marines were white.

ALLEN: And you had Marine guards on that barge there?

SMALL: We had Marine guards, but we had shore patrol escorts.

ALLEN: You were saying that a white Marine guard asked you to speak to the men.

SMALL: Yeah, one of the, he was an officer in the Marine guard. I don't know what rank he had. He asked me if I could do anything to quiet the men down. So, 31:00I called a meeting on the barge and I talked to them. And I used a statement that I never should have used, but they took the thing completely out of context. I said, "We have them -- ," well I'll say now, "in the palm of our hand." Then I used a derogatory phrase.

ALLEN: Yeah, I think I read that.

SMALL: All right. And, "They can do nothing to us if we don't do anything to them." See what I mean? And what I meant by it was that they can't shoot us, because they had threatened to line us up and shoot us and everything. So I was attempting to quiet their fears, and that was meant so they would turn in all their weapons, because they were arming themselves, so that they might fight back if their lives were threatened. Somebody in our bunch went out and told 32:00what I had said. And this was one of the prime testimonies for the prosecution. They harped on that. "You said you've got the Navy by the balls," see what I mean. I said, "Yes, I said it." I said, "But you're taking it completely out of context. My meaning for saying that is all lost. And you're making a threat out of it and it wasn't meant to be a threat." And that was stricken from the records -- that statement was stricken from the records. So a lot of things was changed and when it all boiled down, we were found guilty of mutiny -- fifty of us.

ALLEN: Seems like somebody else spoke at that meeting and there was some 33:00controversy about what they said.

SMALL: Yes. I think his name was Miller.

ALLEN: Matthew Miller?

SMALL: Matthew Miller -- I think that was his name. We called him "Slick." I think his name was Matthew. We also spoke at the meeting. But then during the trial it was argued back and forth as to what he said and what I said and what I didn't say and what he didn't say and we had five shave tail lietenants. as defense lawyers and {inaudible}.

ALLEN: Now, when did Thurgood Marshall get involved?

SMALL: During the trial. During the trial, we heard that Thurgood Marshall was 34:00there from NAACP. And I never had a meeting with him to sit down and talk with him, but we understood that he was there. And several other prominent black people we heard were there. But we never had a chance to talk to them.

ALLEN: During the trial itself, there was no direct contact with him?

SMALL: No, not that I can remember.

ALLEN: But he did come to the trial?

SMALL: He did come. He did come.

ALLEN: He made some statements to the press.

SMALL: He did come. Who was it that started that Port Chicago fund? Somebody started a fund for Port Chicago boys. It wasn't Thurgood Marshall. I remember 35:00somebody starting a fund and it was rumored that they'd gotten $150,000 for our defense, or something like that. And then it just petered out and we didn't hear any more about it. 'Cause we were confined, we had no contact with the outside world other than letters that they allowed us to write and letters they allowed to come it. Our letters were delivered to the guard opened, unsealed, and we received our letters censored. Anything in there they didn't want us to know was blacked out. And I imagine that our letters going out they did the same thing with them. They cut out anything that they thought might be dangerous.

ALLEN: So, you never knew who was behind this fund, or whether it actually existed?

SMALL: No. I'm quite sure that it existed. It was somebody in Chicago, if I 36:00remember. Now I forget --

ALLEN: But it wasn't the NAACP. It was separate from NAACP.

SMALL: This was separate from the NAACP, yes. It wasn't NAACP. It was a private lobbyist. And he was prominent at that time. He was in all the news at that time. I'm trying to think of his name. He was from Chicago --

ALLEN: A black man?

SMALL: He was a black man.

ALLEN: What about the guy from, Lester Grange from the National Urban League?

SMALL: He wasn't connected with any organization like that. He was a private man, I believe his was. He was more or less in show business, something like that. 'Cause as I remember, somebody had told us that the fund had reached 37:00$150,000. And we were supposed to get three private lawyers and two court-appointed lawyers. But it wound up we had five court appointed lawyers, no private lawyers, and then it just dropped off the scene, and nothing was heard about it. There was a prominent black woman, too, that came down there. I can't think of her name -- 'cause I saw her.

ALLEN: The woman who does the Negro handbook, maybe that's who it was? One of the things I found about the case was that the Negro handbook in 1947 had a long article written by a black woman about the case that was later reprinted in one or two other books where there was some mention of it. But I've got it at home, I can send you her name --


SMALL: Well, anyhow I never done any digging into it, cause I didn't want to stir up the thing and then there was never that much interest to me anyhow because it was over and done-- with and I always thought that someday somebody would contact me to write a book about this thing or something like that, especially being such a prominent part of Negro history -- military history anyhow.

ALLEN: Yeah, well you don't find it in any history book.

SMALL: I know you don't. I haven't heard -- you're the first I heard -- you're the first one that has said anything to me about it since then. No one has breathed a word about it.

ALLEN: When I found out about it, the first thing I did was go back through black history books that I had and tried to find it and it wasn't even mentioned, no. One, John Hope Franklin, the great Black historian, in his book he has one paragraph. Not even a paragraph, it's like two sentences and it's 39:00wrong, he got the facts wrong about what happened -- but nowhere else will you find it. You don't find it in any military, they wiped it out. There is only one military history book that they have anything about it, and that's a book called "Integration of the Negro into the Navy," and they have about two paragraphs on it there. Basically I guess they couldn't avoid saying something.

SMALL: Yeah, well that was our integration into the Navy. That was it. That was a great part of it right there.

ALLEN: Was there any logic to the fifty men they picked out -- why that particular group of fifty men out of the 250 who refused initially?

SMALL: Well, they were the fifty men they picked out were the most nervy men. They were the ones that would stand up against the Navy. They were the ones that didn't talk cowardly or accept anything came along. There was -- the fifty men 40:00that they picked were all loud mouths. Let me say it that way. Loud mouths and fighters. And most of the men -- the 200 men that they didn't pick were of a docile character, that's all. I mean, that's the only thing I can lay it to because all the men that were in prison with me were known to be fellows that were fighters, if you crammed them. If they felt that they had a right to something, they would put up a squawk about it.

ALLEN: Do you remember Ollie Green?

SMALL: Yeah.

ALLEN: He was an older guy, about thirty-eight?

SMALL: Yeah, he was older.

ALLEN: Was there some guy of fight or conflict between him and Cy Sheppard after the trial? Do you recall that?

SMALL: I don't really know. I seem to recall something, but it's not clear in my 41:00mind. I remember Wideman, he was a practical joker. I remember Ollie Green, he was an old fellow. I remember Cy Sheppard, he was a light fellow about your complexion right, not as tall as you, smaller built. I remember him. But I don't remember any conflict between him and Green.

ALLEN: 'Cause in Ollie Green's testimony I remember there was, yeah, his hand was in a cast, and at some point they asked him how did his hand happen to be in a sing or something. And he said he got it while -- he fell down while he was running to chow or something. And that cracked everybody up in the court, according to a report I read, and that upset Sheppard so much that he took it 42:00out on Ollie Green later on. You don't recall that happening? And this fellow, the guy who had the nervous condition, Julius Dixon, he was the young guy about nineteen, one of the very young guys. He never worked on the -- they never had him loading ammunition, yet he was one of the fifty who was ordered to load the ammunition, even though in the past they had never had him out there loading ammunition-- because they said he was a hazard. Was it Dixon? I think it was Dixon, it wasn't Wideman.

SMALL: Julius Dixon. I knew a Julius Dixon, he went to CC Camp with me, but he 43:00wasn't in the Navy with me. Julius Dixon he lives out here in Piscataway now. But I don't remember Julius Dixon.

ALLEN: Maybe he was in one of the other divisions.

SMALL: He probably was. But I don't remember him. I remember Wideman specifically because I used to lay in my bunk at night and couldn't go to sleep until I knew that he was in his bunk and asleep.

ALLEN: Why -- ?

SMALL: He was a practical joker. We had large Honeywell heaters in the barracks, one at each end. He would come in 3:00 in the morning, and take newspaper and stick it in the fan. They had a big fan, behind the heater, he would stick newspaper in the fan and then laugh when the men would burst out of their bunks 44:00and rush to the door. This was immediately after the explosion. Then he would stand up there and laugh. He would turn all the lights on at once and holler, "Fire!" I mean this was all a joke to him -- know what I mean. I saw one night particular what really upset me -- that's when I asked them to move him out of our barracks, he -- we had an ironing board getting right by the heater and the ironing board had a piece of sheet over it to iron on. And I laid in my bunk and watched him slide that sheet off and guide that sheet until it caught in the fan, and when it got caught in the fan, he jumped back behind the heater and there was I think thirty-eight men in the barracks and all of them headed for that back door at the same time. And the bunks were lined up here but at the end 45:00of the barrack there was a room on each side and it narrowed down to an aisle and at the end of this aisle was the door. And these thirty-eight men tried to squeeze into that aisle and go out that door at the same time. And several of them got hurt pretty bad. And he's standing up there laughing. So that next morning I requested that he be moved out of our barracks. They moved him out; I don't know what they did with him. I don't think I remember seeing him again since, 'til at the trial. But they moved him. Yea, I remember him specifically.

ALLEN: Something else they brought out at the trial, around which there was a lot of argument, too -- and that was this whole question of the list, the so-called list that the men signed, or some men signed and some men didn't. Do you remember anything about that?

SMALL: I think do remember a list when they had up a list as to who would go 46:00back to work and who wouldn't. It was a petition, mostly. It was a petition that they weren't going back to work and they were asking them to sign it.

ALLEN: Some of the men themselves were circulating this?

SMALL: Yes, I think it was gotten up among the men themselves. But this petition we never delivered to anybody and, as a matter of fact, I believe I was instrumental in having it destroyed, because when they came to me and expressed their opinion to me concerning about going back to work, that's when I found out about the petition. And I destroyed that petition myself. But the wind of it got out, but the petition was never produced. They never saw the petition; it was just rumored that it was around, because I destroyed that myself. When we were at the barracks at --

ALLEN: Shoemaker.


SMALL: Shoemaker.

ALLEN: It was a petition -- well, what did it say? Beside this being a list of signatures, did it have a statement, something like that?

SMALL: No I think, as I recalled, it was just a grievance. I don't think there was any statement on the top of the petition. But they would ask the man, "are you going back to work?" and he said, "No." "Well, sign your name here." You see what I mean. And that was the gist of it. I don't think there was any definite statement at the top as to we refuse to go back to work or anything like that.

ALLEN: But the men intended it as a petition.

SMALL: They intended it as a petition. We were of the opinion that if we got a favorable decision from the majority of the men, that those in charge would 48:00consider that-- you see what I mean. In other words, out of the 250 men, if we got the majority of those men to say that they were afraid to go back to work, then it would be considered. But I destroyed the petition because I knew that this wouldn't happen. So when they asked me that morning, "Small, will you go back?" He didn't address the whole company, he addressed me. "Small, front and center." And I marched up and across and stopped directly in front of him. He was up on a platform. He said, "Small, I order you to go back to work."

ALLEN: This was Delucchi.

SMALL: This was Delucchi. And I didn't answer him. And he said, "Small, will you go back to work, yes or no?" And I said, "No." Somebody in the ranks said, "If Small don't go we won't go either." He turned blood red and stormed off the 49:00platform and left us standing there and we stood there about an hour. Then the Marines came down, and we burst out the marching and took us back to the barracks.

ALLEN: What kind of guy, was this guy Delucchi?

SMALL: He was a very hot-tempered, red-necked cracker. That's what he was. And if things didn't go his way, he was very quick to punish you for it. The greatest punishment they had there was restricting our liberty. They had no other punishment. There was no brig there, per se. And they could put us on KP [kitchen patrol]; but on KP you got better food than you did if you came in to eat. So men didn't mind the KP. The only places for liberty, like I said was Berkeley or Oakland or Frisco or Pittsburg. And Pittsburg was segregated; there was only one street in 50:00Pittsburg that we could go on. It was a big Army camp, Camp Stoneman, was in Pittsburg. The only street that we could go on was Black Diamond Street. When we got off the bus, they had a prescribed course for us to walk to Black Diamond Street. Black Diamond Street was a street that was built on a jetty, and the buildings on each side jutted out and hang out over the water. In other words, you can step up in the front door of the building on solid ground; but if you stepped out the back door, you stepped into fifteen to twenty feet of water. The buildings was set on piers. And all the restaurants and the night clubs the cafes and everything was down there. Now, in Oakland, Seventh Street, and Berkeley. We had the free run of Berkeley, but there was nothing in Berkeley. 51:00Berkeley was residential. So Seventh Street in Oakland, and Black Diamond Street in Pittsburg was the only towns when we had liberty. You could Frisco in the Fillmore district, but we very seldom went over there, because that meant prostitutes over there and we really didn't have enough liberty to go over there anyhow. Our liberty wasn't long enough unless it was on a weekend liberty or something like that.

ALLEN: Speaking of Oakland -- who was this guy Rawlins? In the testimony they were asking about somebody named Rawlins.

SMALL: I don't remember that name... I know there was a place we used to 52:00frequent there. I think it was called Club Seven. It was on Seventh Street. I think it was called the Club Seven and most of the fellas hung out in there, but I don't know what the owners name is. I don't remember a Rawlins specifically.

ALLEN: Club Seven, huh? Where were you when the explosion actually happened?

SMALL: I was in my bunk. See our division had come off of work that morning at 7:00

ALLEN: So you had worked on those two ships, then?

SMALL: Oh yes.

ALLEN: The [SS E.A.] Bryan and the [SS] Quinault Victory.

SMALL: The Wormington.


ALLEN: Now that was there too. The ones that were destroyed was the EA Bryan and a new ship called Quinault Victory. They were just starting to load it then.

SMALL: Well now you see, that's where we got mixed up because the Bryan we were working on the [SS] Mormactern, we were loading the Mormactern. And the Mormactern was scheduled to sail with the tide, that morning. We came off the docks at 7:00 and the explosion was about twenty-two minutes past ten that night. Now I saw the Mormactern and the Bryan but now I recall the Mormactern was supposed to sail with the tide that night. So I didn't know what ship had replaced the Mormactern. See what I mean. But I do know that the new ship that came in was the one that blew up. And it set off the other ship. Now the Bryan, 54:00when we left that morning it had about 12,000 ton on it. We had buttoned up the Mormactern. She was ready for sea. Her gun was about two feet out of the water.

ALLEN: Yeah, well she left.

SMALL: So if she sailed with the tide that morning and then this new ship came in her place, see, that was the one that blew up. And we never found out. We knew that two ships blew up down there, but it was never told to us that the Mormactern had sailed.

ALLEN: Well it was this new ship, the Quinault Victory that came in -- In fact it was brand new, this would have been the maiden voyage.

SMALL: See that never came out. We never knew that.

ALLEN: It had just come from the shipyards, where it had been constructed. I think it was up in Seattle, someplace up North, had come down to San Francisco. This was to be its first run. And it blew up.


SMALL: Well anyhow, that explosion, see, what everybody on the dock got killed. I understand with the exception of one man, and he was in a shed asleep. He was supposed to be working, he was in the shed sleeping. He got injured pretty bad, but he was the one man whose life was saved. 375 men I think, that was reported to us who lost their lives. But it tore down the barracks that we were in. It tore them up like they were match boxes.

ALLEN: Yeah, I've got pictures. In fact, what I can do is send them to you.

SMALL: I'd appreciate that, because I never saw any.

ALLEN: They had some photographs made of the base before the explosion, at the time of explosion, and then when they rebuilt it later. You're right, the changes what they did afterwards was just incredible. They obviously put a whole lot of money into rebuilding that.

SMALL: That never started until after that explosion. After the explosion was 56:00all of that remodeling and things started. Because up to the time of that explosion, it was nothing done. So I don't know what else can I tell you.

ALLEN: Well, this has been very helpful. Well, after the trial, you went down to San Diego -- twenty-two months or about a year and a half, right?

SMALL: Well, let's see. I don't remember now just how long. They were about sixteen months we actually did of our fifteen-year sentence. Some men -- I was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor, then to be dishonorably discharged from the US Navy. And I understand that some of the other men got twelve years, 57:00fifteen years.

ALLEN: It varied, yeah.

SMALL: But when we went there, we went as a group -- I think I was there for about sixteen months. But I was confined there at the San Pedro Federal Penitentiary. What did they call it.

ALLEN: San Pedro?

SMALL: San Pedro, yes. We were confined there about fifteen, sixteen months. And in that sixteen months, we never had any trouble of any major kind. We used to get into a lot of junk between ourselves, you know, some fights, stuff like that. But we were a separated group. Nobody bothered us and we don't bother nobody. We had our own work details and they usually kept us together evidently. 58:00Because they used to refer to us as the "PC Niggers." They refer to us, "Yeah, you one of 'em PC Niggers." And we had a reputation for being unruly and bad, and therefore we had very little trouble. [interruption] They picked us out in groups of five and they put us on board a ship and they shipped us out. And we rode. We had no duties. Nothing to do but make mess call, roam around the ship, and sleep. And I don't know how long we were out but we wound up in Seattle, Washington.

ALLEN: But you went out -- ? Did you go out to the Pacific?


SMALL: Yeah, we went to Okinawa. We just rode, just rode, back forth from one port to another. We never left the ship. Just on the ship that's all. They said that they were conditioning us for a discharge. And we wouldn't get a dishonorable discharge, we would get discharged under honorable conditions. But we had to go back to duty. And it would go in our records that we had been rehabilitated to the extent that we are accepting as qualifying duty, and then we would get discharged under honorable conditions. I think this was some compromise of some group, I don't know who the group was. But we seemed to think that some black group had gotten with the Navy, and come up with the compromise, 60:00to set aside the dishonorable discharge. But we just rode, no duties, nothing to do just --

ALLEN: When was that, for several months?

SMALL: Yeah that was for, I can't remember now. How long it was. But we wound up we came back, it was--I was in Frisco for a long time. We was on Treasure Island and Frisco. And then they gave us a ship, I went to Seattle, Washington. I got discharged from Seattle, Washington. I don't remember now just how that 61:00happened. I know that we left Pedro, we left in groups of five on board ship. Because we went aboard ship one night about 10:00 and we were assigned our bunks and we went to bed. And the next morning when I woke up I detected the motion of the ship. So I got up and went on deck, and I looked around and I didn't see land any place. I said to one of the sailors, I said how far are we from the nearest land, he said about two miles. And I left and I said, which way. He said straight down, we were completely out of sight of land. I remember that, we had a big laugh about it. But we rode, I don't even know how long we rode. I don't know whether we came back to Frisco or whether we went we landed in Seattle, 62:00Washington. We were stationed in Seattle, Washington for a while. And we had no duties there. We used to stand, minor duties we had was guard duty. And then in July of '46, we were shipped back to New York State for discharge.

ALLEN: When you had the meeting with Admiral Wright, and you said that you wouldn't go back under the conditions that existed there, did you mean the base 63:00as a whole or in particular on the pier of what -- ?

SMALL: The working conditions. The conditions under which we handled the ammunition. Because I had told everybody in authority that I could get to, that we were working dangerously. And one day that place would blow up. Lieutenant Delucchi gave me a manual that contained a diagram of a 500-pound bomb that was supposed to be totally harmless with the detonator in it. We had a discussion about it. I said, "Won't concussion blow this thing up?" It's impossible. It cannot blow up with this charge in the head of it. And I didn't believe it. Every time we got in an argument over it, it wound up him telling me if it does blow up you won't know anything about it. Like I said, we were the first Blacks 64:00in the Navy other than at the rank of stewards. And I was the first Black seaman that a whole lot of those white fellows had ever saw. I had a lot of conflict over that. They expected me to be a stewards mate. And when they found out that I was a seaman, then they rejected me. I was on one small ship, 'cause when I left Frisco and went to Seattle, Washington, I was on board of a ship and we had a young shave tailed it. From Massachusetts -- who was the Captain of the ship and he made me the, I forget what the name was now, but I would stand on the 65:00fantail with earphones on, and received the orders from the bridge, and then repeat the orders for the crew. And when we were casting off, he would say, "Cast off ONE" and I'd say, "CAST OFF ONE!" And these white boys were pulling on this big red line, and I was standing up there giving them orders, see what I mean. And it caused quite a commotion.

To the extent that there was a bosuns mate there, and he was from Alabama -- big redhead fellow, and first day I went down to the mess hall to eat, I used to eat with the stewards, and they would get their tray and the officer's trays and go upstairs. So this lieutenant told me, said, "Small, you eat downstairs with the crew." So I said, "Look, they'll be trouble if I eat down there." "You eat down 66:00there, and I'll take care of the trouble." Sure enough, the first day I walk in the mess hall and sat down to eat, this big southerner sat down opposite me and he said, "By gawd, this is the first time I ever ate with a nigger." And I had a mug of coffee, a Navy mug with no handles, and I dashed the coffee in his face, and then hit him with the mug. And before he could get straightened out, I was across the table on him. I was weighing at that time about 155 pounds and he weighed about 240, but I was too fast for him to hit me. But I was also too light to hit him. I would hit him, but I couldn't hurt him. He'd swing at me, and he couldn't hit me. So finally, the lieutenant came in and he broke it up; and he talked to us and we shook hands and we became the best of friends -- everywhere I went he was with me.

We would go in a bar, and he'd say, "Give me two beers." They set one beer up, 67:00he'd slide me the beer, and he'd say, "Now give me a beer." They'd say, "We don't serve blacks in here." Didn't call them Blacks then, called them niggers. "We don't serve niggers in here, we don't serve coloreds in here." And we'd tear the bar up. We'd turn over tables and everything. He became my best friend after we had this fight. And I just asked him, I said, "Alex, why you like me so?" He say, "Small, you're a man. I found out something -- I used to think all black people carried knives and guns and razors and everything, and I kept expecting you to pull out a razor, but you fought me with your fist. You knew you had no chance to win, but still you fought me with your fist, I got respect for you, I like you. You're my buddy." See, but none of this was ever publicized. I think this was after the trial anyway, 'cause the first ship I got was after the 68:00trial. After, we came back to Frisco and then they shipped me to Vancouver, Washington.

ALLEN: Do you have contact with any of the guys, do you know where any of them are?

SMALL: No, I don't know where any of them are. Tried to get in contact with them.

ALLEN: Yeah, 'cause I've been trying to locate them. So far I found five, that's all I've located so far: yourself, Cy Sheppard, Edward Waldrop.

SMALL: Waldrop, yeah, he was a big light skinned fellow. He was from North Carolina. Oh my goodness, I knew Waldrop good.


ALLEN: He lives in Washington now. In fact, that's where I'm going next to talk to him. And then Julius Dixon who lives in Charleston. And Jack Crittenden.

SMALL: Yes, I remember him. He's in Montgomery.

ALLEN: Yeah, I'm going to see all of them.

SMALL: Well listen, if you see those boys, get their address and send it to me.

ALLEN: I got it. Well, let me ask you this. Crittenden was the one who raised this to me, that's why I was going to raise it to you. He asked me for the other men's addresses that I had located. I said, "Well I'll ask when I talk to folks, if that's cool." But I didn't want to be giving out addresses without permission. So if it's okay with you --

SMALL: Yeah! Give them my address.

ALLEN: I'll give you theirs once I talk to them. Make sure it's okay with them. I'll send you their addresses too.

SMALL: I'd appreciate that. 'Cause I'd like to write the fellas a letter. Find 70:00out how they are doing, maybe we might meet and hash over old times.

ALLEN: That'd be great.

SMALL: I thought one time about a reunion, but I said well that wouldn't make sense, 'cause we had a lot of trouble. A reunion of the Port Chicago men -- I don't know that would make any sense. So I dropped it.

ALLEN: I'll just go with what I've got to now, after transcribing it, if I have any questions I'll write to you, etc. etc.