Obama Signs Landmark Legislation

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October 28, 2009
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President Obama signed legislation designating the Port Chicago Memorial in Concord, California part of the National Park Service. Port Chicago was the site of the deadliest disaster on U.S. soil during World War II. On July 17, 1944, munitions on two ships docked at Port Chicago exploded, killing 320 sailors, most of them African American. A few weeks after the explosion, 50 African American sailors refused to resume loading munitions. White sailors were never assigned that dangerous job. Although the 50 were convicted of mutiny in the largest mutiny trial in U.S. history, national publicity about the trial spurred the Navy to end its policy of segregated units.

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President Obama also signed legislation expanding hate crimes coverage to people who are targeted because of sexual orientation, disability, gender, and gender identity. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named for Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was beaten to death in 1998, and Byrd, an African American man who was chained to a truck and dragged to death by three white men in Texas.