The USS Kitty Hawk riot, sometimes called the Kitty Hawk mutiny, was a race riot which took place on the United States Navy aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk on the night of October 11–12, 1972, off the coast of Vietnam during Operation Linebacker. Many crewmen were injured, but Kitty Hawk participated in Linebacker as assigned.
Approximately 100–200 black Kitty Hawk crewmen rioted as a response to perceived grievances against the Navy and the officers of the Kitty Hawk, which appeared to represent institutionalized racism on the ship. One such grievance was the belief that black crewmen were routinely assigned to menial or degrading duties. Black crewmen also believed that white crewmen received milder non-judicial punishments than black sailors for the same offenses. In addition, there was lingering resentment from a racially-charged brawl involving Kitty Hawk sailors in the Philippines shortly before the ship left port.
During the riot, black sailors assaulted and injured a number of white crewmen. Three had to be evacuated to shore hospitals for further treatment. 47 to 60 Kitty Hawk crewmen were injured in total. The carrier's commander, Captain Marland Townsend, and executive officer, Commander Benjamin Cloud, dissuaded the rioters from further violence and prevented white sailors from retaliating. This allowed Kitty Hawk to launch her Linebacker air missions as scheduled on the morning of October 12. Nineteen of the rioters were later found guilty by the Navy of at least one charge connected to the riot.
The incident was publicized in The New York Times. Subsequent racial unrest on Kitty Hawk's sister ship Constellation sparked Congressional hearings to examine race relations in the Navy and policies and programs instituted by Navy leaders to deal with racial issues.
- Freeman, Gregory A. (2009). Troubled Water: Race, Mutiny, and Bravery on the USS Kitty Hawk. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-61361-4.
- Sherwood, John Darrell (2007). Black Sailor, White Navy: Racial Unrest in the Fleet During the Vietnam Era. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-4036-1.
- United States Congress, House Committee on Armed Forces (January 2, 1973). "Report by the Special Subcommittee on Disciplinary Problems in the U.S. Navy. 92nd Cong., 2d sess., 1973, H.A.S.C. 92-81" (Congressional committee investigation report). United States Naval Historical Center. http://www.history.navy.mil/library/special/racial_incidents.htm. Retrieved November 9, 2009.