Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Jason Phillips

Committee Member

Brian Luskey

Committee Member

Kenneth Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

Barton Myers

Committee Member

Krystal Akehinmi


This dissertation analyzes racially motivated mutinies by black military servicemen from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. Resistance against white supremacy in the armed forces illustrates the commitment of generations of African Americans to a vision of freedom centered on bodily, familial, and socioeconomic autonomy. These mutinies thereby warrant the reframing of emancipation as a centuries’-long process rather than a single event confined to the 1860s. Subscribing to martial masculinity, black servicemen believed acting forcefully, and risking their lives or well-being as a result, offered the best path to earning their human rights. African-American sailors enjoyed the opportunities offered by the integrated pre-1900 U.S. Navy to such an extent that no unequivocal racially-motivated black naval mutinies exist in the period’s historical record. Yet, once the Navy designated separate spaces and roles based on race during the Jim Crow years, ships and ports began producing their own black rebellions. Meanwhile, mutinies and race riots populate the history of African Americans in the U.S. Army. From the time black men started serving in uniform in a permanent capacity, such offenses as unequal compensation, controversial orders, and physical abuse inspired them to revolt. Though black soldiers accused of mutiny generally enjoyed unprecedented legal rights in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Jim Crow era brought a sharp erosion in the government’s enforcement of due process rights in court-martial proceedings. Finally, despite civil rights gains during and after World War II, racial tensions remained acute enough to overwhelm the armed forces with mutinous outbreaks into the 1970s.