Fort Lawton (Seattle) “Riot” And Pow Lynching, 1944

African American soldiers “rioted” against Italian prisoners of war at Seattle’s Fort Lawton, an Army staging area for combat in the Pacific on August 14, 1944. There was the severe beating of American officers and POWs under their guard.

Guglielmo Olivotto, one of the POWs was discovered hanged a considerable distance away the next morning. Reports by several Newspapers attributed the riot to black soldiers’ resentment of Italian POWs due to the lenient treatment by the Army.

The Army classified its investigation, and the ensuing court martial resulted in the conviction of 23 African American soldiers, including one enlisted man, for manslaughter for killing Olivotto, based on no evidence. Sixty years later the Army investigation was declassified.

The identity of the person(s) that lynched Olivotto cannot be proved, but the following are interesting facts.  White Members of parliament routinely harassed the Italian POWs more than black soldiers and plainly tried to involve black soldiers.

White MPs failed to respond to frantic calls from the Italian barracks for a remarkable 30 to 45 minutes.

No white MP could remember any particular black rioter, as “you can’t tell them apart.” The barracks were repaired and repainted with dazzling speed – within 24 hours, destroying all evidence.

Army investigators later learned that many MPs and officers at Fort Lawton lied under oath about the incident, sending a number of black enlisted men to various levels of military punishment.

Sixty years later the Army investigation of the incident was declassified allowing researcher Jack Hamann to argue in his book, On American Soil, that justice was not served in the Fort Lawton courts martial. 

In October 2007, the Army’s Board of Corrections of Military Records overturned the convictions, allowing the cases to be reopened.


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