Unrest in the Fleet Transcript

Narrator: Between 1972 and 1973, multiple U.S. Navy ships and bases experienced episodes of racial violence.

NBC News Anchor: A month and a half ago there was a race riot aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk off the coast of Vietnam. 46 men were injured in the fighting. 21 Black crewman were flown home and will be court-martialed, and there will be a Congressional investigation.

Narrator: The violence on Kitty Hawk was followed by racial unrest and protest on six active duty ships, including USS Intrepid.

The causes of this violence were complex. Low morale plagued the Navy in the early 1970s. Long and difficult deployments to Vietnam left servicemen feeling alienated and resentful. Young Black recruits particularly struggled.

In January 1973, fighting broke out on Intrepid. Black crew members were frustrated by the use of racial slurs and harsher punishments for Black sailors. The captain met with crew members to hear their concerns, but some sailors were still dissatisfied.

Intrepid‘s command identified eight Black sailors as the alleged ringleaders. These men were secretly flown off the ship, in the hope of preventing more unrest. Black sailors again felt they had been singled out for harsher punishment. In response, a handful of these sailors began randomly attacking their shipmates. The violence on Intrepid made headlines.

These protests came at a time when some Navy administrators were pushing for reform. They believed relaxing old fashioned regulations and requiring racial awareness training would improve quality of life for Navy personnel.

Clifton Blevins: This riot probably would not have occurred if they Navy had whole-heartedly enforced the kinds of structures that Admiral Zumwalt had laid forth to them.

Narrator: However, critics blamed those reforms for the racial uprisings.

NBC Reporter: Some old line admirals and congressmen think Zumwalt has undermined military discipline with his attempts to modernize and liberalize the Navy.

Narrator: Serious reform efforts continued through the end of the decade.

NBC Reporter: If the war is indeed winding down, there will be more homecomings like the Kitty Hawk’s bringing home unsolved problems as the Kitty Hawk has done.