Hiking and History: Honoring the Legacies of Port Chicago and John Muir

A foggy morning turned into a beautiful afternoon for a late November hike up Mount Wanda at the John Muir National Historic site.  Twenty-five outdoor afros and Cody the dog were treated to an enjoyable afternoon of history, community, and smiles.

Before we began our hike, Raphael Allen, Park Ranger at Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historical Park, welcomed everyone and provided a thorough presentation on African American of History Port Chicago. Ranger Raphael explained that Port Chicago, visible from the summit of Mount Wanda, was the site of a deadly explosion on July 17, 1944.

320 men, including 202 African American men, were killed due to unsafe conditions at the port. Following the explosion, 50 African American men were charged and tried for mutiny for refusing to report back to work. According to Ranger Raphael, this injustice caused African Americans to organize and to whisper among themselves  “Thurgood’s Coming” in reference to NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s involvement in the case. Ranger Raphael concluded his presentation by distributing trading cards to Outdoor Afro hikers and emphasizing the national park’s commitment to ensuring that Port Chicago is not forgotten.


With Port Chicago on our minds, we began our ascent up Mount Wanda.

Everyone settled into their own pace, with faster hikers taking the lead and the others keeping a moderate pace.  While the beginning of the hike was mostly shady and cool, the sun broke through the trees to warm us up as we got to our midway point.
Outdoor Afro Leader Cliff Sorrell pointed out the different trees on the hike including fragrant California Bay Trees and various oak trees, including the coast live oak and the blue oak trees. Cliff explained that you can tell the difference between the trees by noticing their leaves.
Several outdoor afros noted that we were joined on our hike by different bird species, including turkey vultures, Downy Woodpeckers, and a hummingbird.  We also discussed the legacy of John Muir and his significant role in ensuring that we can continue to enjoy national parks like Mount Wanda and Yosemite.

Outdoor Afros Carmen and Toure were the first to reach Mount Wanda’s summit.

As other members joined us, Outdoor Afro Leader Zoë Polk pointed out the location of Port Chicago.  She asked members to think about what the landscape looked like in 1944 and to think about the different reasons African Americans joined the Navy during that time. Zoë referenced Professor Robert Allen’s celebrated work, Port Chicago Mutiny, and noted that some of the men were outdoor afros of their time, joining the navy out of a sense of adventure and longing to experience the world’s natural beauty. She also asked hikers to contemplate what outdoor recreation activities the men of Port Chicago participated in, given that they had little ability to travel to Oakland, San Francisco, or other bay area culture centers for entertainment. Hikers took a minute to contemplate this history and the beautiful surrounding landscape before descending Mount Wanda.
We finished the afternoon by stopping by the John Muir House. The wonderful staff at the visitor center screened Into Forgetfulness, a short documentary film about the Port Chicago disaster and legal battle. The staff also led tours of John Muir’s house.
The Outdoor Afro leadership team celebrates all of the kind folks who joined us on Mount Wanda and looks forward to seeing everyone again at the next meet up!
For more information about honoring the legacy of Port Chicago, connect with the Friends of Port Chicago.

Cayman and John Muir

My Square Mile

Contributed by Michael David Cobb Bowen, the political & cultural blogger ‘Cobb‘. He brings up the timely topic of youth getting outdoors, through a personal reflection of play as a child in Southern California.
Spence asks a critical question about our trust in society. How far could you roam as a kid? I was surprised to discover that although I felt like I had a virtual infinity by the time I went to high school, before I was 14 years old it was basically one square mile.

This little grid from Google maps is where I grew up. LA 90016. We had pretty much everything we wanted in that square. Football, basketball, swimming, box tag, skateboarding, fruit tree raids, capture the flag, chicken, ditch, hide and go get it, drag out and dozens of other ghetto games that kept our attention. By the time I was 14, I took the bus to Venice Beach (9 miles) or to Hollywood Roller Rink (7 miles).
But during that childhood, we took a whole lot of trips up to the Angeles National Forest and we took a lot of neighborhood kids too. So there was an interesting sense of mobility in that.

In fact, as I think of it, a great deal of my own mobility and comfort with that came from camping. I can’t think of any other black kids or families that spent much time in the Army surplus stores for trips up the Angeles Crest. But it seemed like we were up in them hills every weekend ever summer and at least once every snow. We would bring back snow to the ‘hood and have snowball fights right in our front yard. Then we would go to summer camp with the Crenshaw Y at Big Bear and with the Episcopal Church down in San Diego County near the town of Julian.
My kids get a mix of travel and activity. But we just don’t turn them loose in the streets. I will always lament the loss of improvisation today’s kids have because of their lack of unsupervised pickup game protocols. But they have other things we couldn’t imagine, like online friends in game networks. It’s a different world, but not necessarily worse.

Join the Natural Leaders in a Day of Service

The Natural Leaders Network has joined forces with Sierra Club’s Serve Outdoors initiative to remember and honor September 11th through outdoor service. For the generation that came of age after 9/11, 2001, service has become an important part of life. For many, service means standing up for our neighborhoods, our communities, our country and our natural world. Through service, diverse young Americans are taking the lead in building a foundation for a healthy and equitable future.
For so many of us, the outdoors is a place of solace and refuge. This is also true for armed services members returning from overseas, firefighters taking a much needed break from work, and families facing tough economic realities. Together, the Natural Leaders Network and the Sierra Club, with the support of the Children & Nature Network, will observe the National Day of Service by engaging in and working to highlight, enhance, protect, and restore these vital outdoor spaces.
The Natural Leaders Network is honored to be part of this important day. We hope you will join us by visiting Serve Outdoors and hosting or participating in a service project in your community.
The Natural Leaders Network

Simple Pleasures

Remember these days?

Photo by Jessica Fernandez of her children and friends in their backyard

Kites, Nights, and Cameras!

This week was event-filled for Outdoor Afro where we connected with friends, family, and the community to have fun, and expand the message of outdoor engagement.
The week began with some high-flying times with family and close friends for the Berkeley Kite Festival on what felt like the windiest day of the year. Even if you did not have a kite of your own, there were many beautiful and dynamic kites to see. Some highlights included the kite candy drop; pony rides provided by African American cowboys (more on this later), and bike parking provided by Richmond Spokes, since auto traffic was rough. Note to self for next year: do not bring cheap kites because they will get smacked down in the first 10-minutes of your arrival and you will be laughed at by strangers (trust me on this one). View more pictures
On Tuesday evening, Outdoor Afro joined up with Memorial Tabernacle Church in North Oakland, California for National Night Out to share resources, books, and local programs
for the church and community members to connect with the outdoors in new ways. As much as I enjoy the digital conversation, I recognize not everyone can be reached online, so it’s always enlightening to speak with people directly about their experiences and barriers to the outdoors. I was especially heartened to hear about how Memorial Tabernacle was already leading hikes to Muir Woods, one the most dazzling National Forest sites in the area. View more pictures
Finally, I was interviewed by ABC local affiliate for its Sunday morning show, “Behind the Headlines” that examined the topic of Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv, who wrote the ground-breaking book, Last Child in the Woods. It was great to be on the show with friends from Bay Area Wilderness Training, and San Francisco’s Chrissy Field Center. For my first time doing a television interview on this topic, I think it went pretty well and I had a blast! I can’t wait to share the video embed and link with the community as soon as it becomes available.
This upcoming week I am looking forward to the Children and Nature Network’s  Grassroots Gathering in Princeton, New Jersey to be on a panel discussing diversity, and social media strategies to connect more people to the outdoors with some of my closest friends and pioneers of this movement from across the country.
No matter where you are, I hope you are finding ways to enjoy your summer. It’s still not too late to get out and make some warm weather memories for you and your loved ones. Check out the Outdoor Afro community site to get some ideas and find people in your area to connect with. There were also many fun ideas discussed on the Outdoor Afro Facebook page and I’ll publish some of these suggestions later this week to inspire you to get outdoors!
What did your community do for National Night Out?
What other Faith Based Organizations do you know that are connecting people to the outdoors?