We are in America in the 1940s. In Greenville, South Carolina, black children are being tormented and bullied by white children. We are in the Deep South where black women are sitting on the back of a bus even if the front is empty. It is fall. The leaves are turning vivid shades of orange, red, and yellow. Children play in the heaps of fallen leaves preparing for winter to come. The air is cool and the breeze whisks you into the small town. Meanwhile, not too far, from this wonderfully joyful, beautiful, and segregated town, men are sweating and crying at the thought of dying in an explosion. Here we are at Port Chicago. African American men spend long days in the Navy loading dangerous ammunition into massive vessels. An explosion here has already occurred taking two boats and 324 men with it into the deep, dark, and cold waters of the deck. Being an African American citizen in the 1940s through the 1970s was grueling. Segregation spread like fire everywhere from bathrooms to schools. The South became violent and dangerous towards African Americans. In these nonfiction texts, fighting for what you believe in is crucial to obtaining the change that you want to see. brown girl dreaming is the true story of an African American girl, who later wrote her story as a memoir, and lived in Ohio, moved to South Carolina with her grandparents, and ended up in Brooklyn, New York with her 3 siblings and her single mother. On the other hand, The Port Chicago 50 is about African American mess attendants in the Navy during World War II who refuse to work after an explosion that occurred on their base. They end up getting charged for mutiny. Their goal is to make a difference in order to obtain a better condition of work. Therefore, the nonfiction books, brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin both portray “courage under fire” as fighting in difficult times. Whether it is moving away from home and adapting to a new life or standing up for what you believe in even if it means having the threat of a death sentence hanging over you.
To begin with, Woodson’s brown girl dreaming depicts the theme courage under fire through her own adaptation from the segregated South to Brooklyn, New York with a new beginning awaiting her. Jaqueline has lived through many hardships and difficult times throughout her early life. At the young age of one, her parents got divorced because of a non- harmonious marriage. She and her siblings moved to Greenville, South Carolina with her mom’s family. As a result, this was a hardship in her life because Jackie needed to get used to a completely different way of life that was frowning upon people of her skin color. She needed to adapt herself, and find courage within her to keep going forward. Once back home, Woodson’s mom says, “now coming back home isn’t really coming back home at all” (Woodson 46). This punctuates the fact that Woodson’s mom isn’t a type of person who is happy where she is, she always wants more in order to feel closer to her loved ones. This must have been hard for Jackie because if you see that your parents are unhappy you don’t feel safe or comforted. This must have shown her that something was wrong and that she wasn’t doing well. Later in life, Woodson moves away from home to go to Brooklyn, New York where her new house, school, and baby brother are awaiting. Once there her aunt dies, her baby brother is in the hospital with lead contamination, and her uncle goes to jail. Woodson sums up all of her emotions about these events in her poem, ‘brooklyn rain’, “Down south already feels like a long time ago but the stories in my head take me back there, set me down in Daddy’s garden where the sun is always shining” (Woodson 165). We can infer in this poem that “down south” for her is home, and she feels that every time a strife occurs in New York. Even though it feels like long ago, the memories of her siblings and her on the new swing set, or to the candy lady with grandpa to get pale yellow lemon chiffon ice cream in a crisp wafer cone bring her home. As previously demonstrated, Jackie has not allowed the hardships she has endured undermine her happiness and eagerness to fight, and unlike her mom, she is determined to learn how to become a writer and make her dream come true. She truly illustrates courage under fire by making the best of her unstable and ambiguous life, and she has courage under fire by pushing through and making her dream come true.
Unquestionably, the text, Port Chicago 50 renders having courage under fire both literally and figuratively. The 50 men afflicted with mutiny kept on fighting for what they believed in even after being threatened multiple times that mutiny during wartime could result in a death penalty. While being personally summoned to Admiral Wright’s office, Joe Small answered to a threat, “If you don’t return to work, I’m going to have you shot.” “You bald-headed son of a so-and-so, go ahead and shoot!” (Sheinkin 93). Small felt that he was either going to die of another explosion, or by being shot. The nerve racking tension that the men endured every day about the thought of another explosion occurring was much worse than any shot. After given the choice to load or not, 87 men refused. Among them was Percy Robinson who reflected upon the matter by saying, “You know, all this stuff builds up,” he said later, explaining his mindset at this critical moment. “A lot of things you didn’t like before, you just didn’t do anything about ’em. But now they’re all piled up. I guess you put ’em all together.” “I felt like I was being mistreated,” he added. “I had no other recourse to fight back but to refuse to go back to work”(Sheinkin 83). This exemplifies the revolting need for these men to make a difference in the place of work. These men are volunteers to the Navy, but if they can get drafted equally they should be rewarded and punished equally. All of these men were war veterans, but their color took over their actions. They were still treated as incapable people who didn’t deserve any recognition or ability to advance in society. Not only, were the men of Port Chicago brave souls who only wanted to fight for their country while being considered equal to their white peers, but also the color of their skin didn’t change the color of their flag.
Without a doubt, both of the nonfiction texts, brown girl dreaming and Port Chicago 50, focus on the aspect of fighting for what you believe in even if you are different. First off, Jacqueline and her friend Maria want to be part of the the organization of the Black Panthers because they see that they are fighting for what they think is right. They even say in the poem ‘ power to the people’, “ we dream of running away to California to join the Black Panthers the organization Angela is a part of. She is not afraid, she says, to die for what she believes in but doesn’t plan to die without a fight… Angela Davis is one of America’s Most Wanted… I don’t understand, why someone would have to die or even fight for what they believe in… We are not afraid to die, Maria and I shout, fists high, for what we believe in. But both of us know—we’d rather keep believing and live”(Woodson 302). This passage allows us to comprehend that even at a young age of 9, African American children were so deeply involved in the struggle for being different that they needed to feel like they were making a difference in their situation. They repeat slogans from who they think are their role models. For the children, they are only a group of adults who appear to be fighting for what seems to be right. People like Angela Davis who made spoke publicly convinced young people that her cause was strong because she is fighting for the truth. Likewise, the men at Port Chicago faced much need to fight for freedom. Edward Roberts was going to Oakland, and he became friends with a few white sailors, “He struck up a friendly conversation with two white sailors headed the same way. “Let’s go over to the bar and have us a drink,” one of the sailors said when the bus reached the station. The men walked into a nearby joint and ordered three bottles of beer. The bartender set two bottles on the bar. “What happened to my friend’s beer?” asked one of the white sailors. “Aren’t you going to give him a beer?” The bartender said, “We don’t serve n*****s here.” Edwards turned and walked out alone. … “We’re supposed to be fighting the same enemy,” he thought. “I don’t know who my enemy really is.” … When he’d joined the Navy, people told him, “You’re fighting for your freedom!” … “Where’s the freedom?” (Sheinkin 37). Even men who decided to fight for their country and risk their lives weren’t respected because of their skin color. If a man can’t get a beer because his skin is darker than why should these same men still fight for a country who is battling them? These sailors were told that they would become equal to the white men, but once again only African Americans serve as mess attendants instead of serving as sailors who fought. Opportunity should be based on quality of the person and the ability of the person to complete a post. It shouldn’t be a biased system where only select people get to move up in the ranks while others clean up after them. People who are fighting for a common goal to protect their country, they should have the same merit regardless of race, religion, or gender. While life was burdensome for African Americans for a long time, it was the people who were willing to never give up on small everyday battles who made a huge difference.
In conclusion, the nonfiction texts Port Chicago 50 and brown girl dreaming both deliver the message that having courage under fire could be being faced with moving to a new place away from home, or refusing to work for fear of another explosion taking their lives from them. These individuals fought for what they believed was right even if it cost them their respect and life. The men of Port Chicago ended discrimination in the Navy. The Woodson family helped to prove that the south wasn’t just for whites and that black children could grow up happy and loving their time there. These activists helped create a world today where anyone can be anything they want to be. If a black man runs for President, there is no reason why he can’t win, and white collar jobs could be achieved no matter your race, religion, or gender.