Racial violence flares aboard U.S. Navy ships on October 12, 1972. Forty six sailors are injured in a race riot involving more than 100 sailors on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk en route to her station in the Gulf of Tonkin off Vietnam. The incident broke out when a Black sailor was summoned for questioning regarding an altercation that took place during the crew’s liberty in Subic Bay (in the Philippines). The sailor refused to make a statement and he and his friends started a brawl that resulted in sixty sailors being injured during the fighting. Eventually 26 men, all Black, were charged with assault and rioting and were ordered to appear before a court-martial in San Diego.
Four days later, a group of about 12 Black sailors aboard the USS Hassayampa, a fleet oiler docked at Subic Bay, told ship’s officers that they would not sail with the ship when the ship put to sea. The group demanded the return of money that allegedly had been stolen from the wallet of one of the group. The ship’s leadership failed to act quickly enough to defuse the situation and later that day, a group of seven white sailors were set upon by the group and beaten. It took the arrival of a Marine detachment to restore order. Six Black sailors were charged with assault and rioting.
These incidents indicated the depth of the racial problems in the Navy. All of the services had experienced similar problems earlier, but the Navy had lagged behind the others in addressing the issues that contributed to the racial tensions that erupted on the Kitty Hawk and the Hassayampa. Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., Chief of Naval Operations, instituted new race relations programs and made significant changes to Naval Regulations to address many of the very real issues raised by the Black sailors regarding racial injustice in the Navy.