By DANNY MINTON
On July 17, 1944, at approximately 10 p.m., an event happened in California that would cause controversy for the next half-century. It was 10:18 p.m. when witnesses heard a metallic sound and falling timber. Seconds later, a blast occurred at Port Chicago, covering 3,000 feet in diameter and 12,000 feet high with force measured at the University of California, Berkeley as a 3.4 earthquake on the Richter scale. That evening, 320 sailors and civilians lost their lives, 202 of which were black Americans.
Port Chicago existed primarily as a munitions loading station for loading bombs and explosives on ships which transported them to other loading areas for the war effort. Most of the workers consisted of enlisted black American sailors. The services during WWII remained segregated, with most of the labor jobs given to the black sailors who, by many, were seen as “not smart enough” for leadership or even fighting positions. The sailors had argued about the unsafe practices and conditions at Port Chicago, but the words fell on deaf ears in the service. In the aftermath of the disaster, major fault fell on the black sailors for the explosion and their so-called incompetence. The years would follow with talks of mutiny, trials, imprisonment, racial arguments, and finally, changes. It would be the 1990s before the stories of the event, and the sailors would receive the attention they should have years before.
As I read about Port Chicago, I thought of other events pushed aside because they were a source of embarrassment. The stories of Crystal City and the rounding up of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, the American Indians, and the “Trail of Tears” and “Wounded Knee” came to mind. These were times we looked back upon and that remained unspoken of for years as a source of embarrassment and, to some, “shame.”
“Hush! We don’t talk about that.” Have you ever heard something like that phrase? There are always things that we don’t want to talk about because they bring up embarrassing moments or other situations and things in our lives that we want to forget. Everyone has a little secret or event they have in their memory but have no desire to discuss it with others or talk about it with anyone else. However, they hang around our thoughts, repeatedly reminding us of something we’d like to forget.
Have you ever done something you’d like to forget that happened, yet it remains in your memory and pops up every so often? Many things stay with us even if we have corrected our mistakes, and I believe they do for a reason. We learn not only from the good things happening around us but also from those lessons we learn when we come across failures in our lives.
I think of Paul and how he spoke of his “thorn in the flesh.” He writes, “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” 2 Corinthians 12:7 (NASB) No one knows what it was that he spoke about as his “thorn in the flesh.” Some say it was his eyesight or some other physical handicap. I’m sure his heart was heavy because of the time he spent persecuting the very people for the faith he now possessed. Whatever the reason, there was a constant reminder from which he learned humility in his service to God.
Our past does not define who we are today. Several years ago, I officiated a funeral service for a man named David. David had been in prison and spent most of his life around those who negatively influenced his life. When David became a Christian and began coming to worship, he always wore a hat, even in service. Those who didn’t know David may have thought, “How rude,” but there was a reason the hat remained on his head. On his head, he had a thorn in the flesh, something that reminded him of the life he had left. Under cover of his hat existed the tattoo of the devil, an unforgotten memory of a life once lived.
By being reminded of our shortcomings in life, we can move forward without committing the same mistakes. Sometimes they are things we keep “Hush, Hush.” Sometimes the failings of our past can be teaching moments to help others. Our struggles can sometimes help others going through the same journey we once took. Our failures can help people realize that we can overcome the negative things of our past.
God gives us memories that we never forget. Sometimes they are unpleasant but necessary to help us continue to realize where we’ve been in life, places we no longer want to visit. The memories we wish we could forget but remain “Unforgotten Memories” are those that can teach us our most valuable lessons as we mold our lives to be like Christ.
Danny Minton is an Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ