Who Was Leon Jaworski?
I was watching the evening news, and they had a story about a bunch of black soldiers who were convicted of crimes related to the lynching of an Italian POW in 1944 at Fort Lawton, in Washington State. It turned out that they weren't guilty--and today, the Army apologized for this miscarriage of justice.
I wish that I could say that this was a rare event. It wasn't. There were plenty of examples earlier in the twentieth century where black soldiers were punished for crimes that they didn't commit, or at least for which the evidence wasn't sufficient.
Part of the problem was that the dominant culture said that blacks were savages. Especially in the South, almost any confrontation between black and white was going to be assumed to be the black person's fault.
Part of the problem was that "black soldier" was a very, very scary concept--because "soldier" includes the idea of "gun." The fear that black soldiers might take knowledge of firearms back into civilian life was why, for much of American history, blacks were allowed either in the Navy (where their experience wasn't going to be useful in civilian life--how many five inch naval guns are privately owned?), or kept in entirely non-combat roles--such as loading ships and driving trucks. The four black regiments (segregated, of course, but with white officers) that the U.S. Army kept after the Civil War were only because Republicans, who dominated the Congress throughout the postbellum period, insisted. If the Army had gotten its way, all the "Colored Troops" units would have been disbanded at the end of the Civil War.
Bernard C. Nalty's Strength for the Fight
is a very powerful and often heartbreaking history of the efforts of black Americans to prove themselves in the U.S. armed forces--and the enormous efforts that were made to keep them out. It also includes other incidents like what happened at Fort Lawton, where it was apparent that for political reasons, black servicemen were never going to get a fair shake.
So, who is Leon Jaworski? The evening news broadcast mentioned that Jaworski was the lawyer in charge of the investigation, and sat on information that would have cleared these black soldiers. This July 23, 2008 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
article tells us:
Jaworski had evidence that likely would have cleared Snow and the others. Instead, he sat on it, and the case was nearly forgotten until a book by Seattle author Jack Hamann proved that the black soldiers didn't lynch the Italian soldier -- something Army investigators knew during the largest and longest court-martial of World War II.
The evening news broadcast also mentioned that Jaworski later became famous because of Watergate. My guess is that most people under 40, if they even know what Watergate was, only know that it was a scandal involving a Republican politician--and will probably assume that Jaworski was someone caught up in the scandal.
Not so. Jaworski was a Democrat who was appointed as special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate crimes, and whose actions led to Nixon's eventual resignation. And I'm sure that's part of why the American Bar Association has the Leon Jaworski Public Program Series
Since 2001, the American Bar Association Division for Public Education has conducted the Leon Jaworski public program series. The Jaworski public programs have examined themes of law, politics, and culture and have operated on the premise that exploring fundamental legal identities and attributes help us better understand who we are as Americans.
A couple of points:
1. In some circles, it is just assumed
that hostility to blacks is some Republican thing. It isn't, and in practice, Democrats
throughout the twentieth century have done far more to injure blacks than Republicans have done.
2. What Jaworski did was not just convicting these black soldiers in error, but actually suppressing evidence that would have cleared them--and perhaps found the real killer. Why? Jaworski was a Southern Democrat--and I would not be surprised if he thought that it didn't matter
if these soldiers were innocent of this murder. The whole idea of black men in the uniform of the United States of America would have been abhorrent to him. After World War II, there was an incident in South Carolina where a black soldier returning home was arrested and mutilated by a sheriff who was enraged
by the sight of a black man in a military uniform.
3. I presume that in the calculation of which is bigger--taking down Nixon, or violating his duty to the law--the ABA will decide that taking down Nixon was more important. I rather doubt that the Leon Jaworski Public Program Series
will be going away.
UPDATE: Here's a more detailed account of the incidents that led to this court-martial that, in spite of putting at least some of the black soldiers involved in a poor light, comes from the ultraleftist April 22, 2008 Village Voice
What was never in much dispute was that some of the black soldiers stationed at the fort, drinking heavily the night before being shipped out to a possibly very dangerous Pacific location, reacted to a fistfight between one of their own and one of the Italian POWs by swarming the Italians' barracks and beating the living hell out of many of the Italians as well as some white American MPs. Also not in dispute was that the rioters had stabbed unarmed victims with knives and used wooden clubs to break limbs, and that one black soldier drove a Jeep repeatedly over a tent that had men in it. It was probably something of a miracle that more people weren't killed. The dead man, Private Guglielmo Olivotto, was found in another part of the camp at dawn the next morning, hanging from a noose that had been tied to a wire at an obstacle course.
What Hamann uncovered, however, was that right from the start, the MPs and the officers in charge at Fort Lawton handled the case by doing just about everything wrong. Evidence was destroyed, statements weren't taken when they should have been, and soon it was almost impossible to figure out which of the black soldiers at Fort Lawton had taken part in the beatings and which hadn't.