Library - Reading Room
Supporting Materials for Sir! No Sir!
Navy Chooses To Ignore Issues, United Connie Sailors Discharged
A group of sailors on the U.S.S. Constellation won two victories against the Navy within one week. First, the group seized the main mess deck and forced the ship to come back to San Diego on November 3-4. Then the group refused to reboard the ship on November 9 and held a mass demonstration to protest menial jobs, bad discharges and unjust punishment.
On November 3 a group of black sailors demanded to see Captain Ward, CO of the Connie. The captain had attempted to discharge six blacks with general discharges for having low GCT's (General Classification Test---a vocabulary test). Some of the six men had been in the Navy for three years Most had good records.
The brothers felt that this 'as a racist act and demanded to discuss this policy with the captain. The brothers (about 150 strong) met in the mess decks and waited for the captain.
He refused to come down. Instead he sent his Human Relations Council. At this point there were about 300-400 men on the mess deck. There were many whites and a majority of blacks. The Council admitted it had no power to do anything.
So three representatives of the group were sent to meet with Captain Ward. He refused to meet with them and ordered the men off "his deck".
Back on the mess deck the group debated its next move. They decided to keep demanding that Captain Ward meet with them. A list of grievances was drawn up.
The first demand was that there be an investigation of the discharge policy of Captain Ward. The men felt that that Captain Ward was unjustly giving out general discharges to blacks.
The second demand was that there be an independent investigation of punishment by Captain's Mast. Many of the blacks felt they were unequally treated. The punishment for blacks was far heavier than that for whites. For instance a black man with a seven-day UA would get restriction for 45 days and a heavy fine, while a white would get a seven-day restriction and a light fine for the same offense.
The third grievance concerned job assignments. Blacks were often sent to jobs that were the dirtiest and most menial on the ship. Many of the blacks had gone to schools and were trained. But blacks were sent to clean toilets, bulkheads, floors and machinery.
But Captain Ward refused to meet with the group. Instead he told them over the bitch box to go back to work. At this point over 100 whites left. But the blacks and some whites decided to stay. They staged a sit-down strike and work refusal.
A little while later the Captain sent in a squad of thirty Marines to frighten the group. The Marines were armed. But on November 8 the Connie returned to San Diego again. He met with the group of dissenters. He told them that he would meet their demands and told them, to return to the ship on Thursday, November 8, at eight am.
On Thursday the group staged a mass demonstration on the pier at North Island. The men were not fools. They knew that Captain Ward could not be trusted. They wanted the problems solved before they returned to the ship. They were also afraid of violence and harrassment if they returned.
At 7:30 a.m. the group met on the pier at the foot of the Connie. The group held its own muster at the pier and refused to return to the ship until the demands were met.
It was a confrontation between the men and the Navy. For six hours neither would move. Finally, at two p.m. the Navy gave in. Captain Ward transfered the men to shore duty.
The grievances had been building up on the Connie for several months. Men were forced to work long hours---up to 14-16 hours per day. The work areas on the ship were extremely hot and unpleasant. The noise was nerveracking, both from the engines and the planes.
The living conditions were also very crude. The compartments were full of roaches. The food was sometimes full of maggots. Men were forced to live in very crowded conditions and in coffinsized beds.
Finally, the ship was scheduled to go to WesPac in January on a ten month cruise. It had just returned from the combat zone in Vietnam in June and the crew is upset over this new tour of duty. This did not frighten the brothers. In fact it brought them closer together.
They decided it would be a long stay so they passed out food. Blankets and matresses were brought in. The spirit was really high and the men were sticking together and sticking to their demands.
Sometime during the night Admiral Walker, commander of Fleet Air Pac, flew to the ship for an hour. After he left the Connie turned around and headed for San Diego. It had been off the coast playing war games. The captain said the ship was nearly out of fresh water. But the group claims the reason for the return was that the crew could not be fed while they occupied the main mess deck. In San Diego Captain Ward ordered the 132 men off the ship. He told the 124 blacks and eight whites that they would form a seperate beach detachment while their problems were solved. This happened on November 4.
After the demonstration the men were returned to the barracks on North Island. They were seperated into three groups. All were sent to Captain's Mast for the six-hour UA. Fifty have been discharged.
There is a petition campaign to get Captain Ward off the ship. He is a racist and an oppressor of men.
This incident shows the strength of people when they get together. In the face of overwhelming odds and the power of the US Navy the group of 132 forced it to back down and retreat. It was a real victory.
Up From the Bottom, vol. 2, no. 6