This week, our community will help heal an injustice after 60 long years. I will have the pleasure of joining other local and federal elected officials in honoring 43 African American soldiers who were unjustly accused of rioting and manslaughter at Fort Lawton in Seattle during World War II.
The U.S. Army accused the men of lynching an Italian prisoner of war, then prosecutors failed to reveal information that would have exonerated them. After worldwide publicity and the longest and largest Army court martial of the war, the court convicted 28 of the 43 men of rioting and two of manslaughter. The arrests, prosecutions, convictions, incarcerations and dishonorable discharges impacted the men and their families for 60 years, until October 26, 2007 when the U.S. Army’s Court of Appeal ruled that the court-martial had been fundamentally unfair. All 28 convictions were eventually reversed.
Mr. Samuel Snow, one of the original soldiers who faced this injustice, his family and the families of seven of the other soldiers who are no longer alive are scheduled to attend several events and activities in their honor over the coming week.
Why does this matter after all this time? Because it shows we can help make right a forgotten and terrible chapter in our community’s history and because the soldiers lived their lives carrying the burden of a court martial knowing they were punished for something they did not do. That had an impact on who they became, how they lived and how their families lived. Although they left here rightfully bitter and angry, we have a chance to erase some of the shame of the court’s decision so long ago and welcome back the lone surviving solider and the families of the others to celebrate their honorable service to this country.
For more information on the tribute events for the veterans of the Fort Lawton court martial, click here.