Agana race riot

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The location of Agana on Guam.

The Agana race riot (1944) took place at Agana, Guam over the two nights of 24–25 December 1944 during the War in the Pacific and occurred between white and black members of the United States Marines.

It was one of the most serious incidents between African American military personnel and White enlisted men in the United States armed forces during the Second World War.[1]


Troops of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, enter the wreckage of Agana in the face of retreating Japanese forces in July 1944.

In July 1944, the 3rd Marine Division and 77th Infantry Division took two weeks to recapture Guam from the Japanese Army in a campaign that cost 1,783 American lives and wounded 6,010 men.[2]

After the battle, the Allies developed Guam for use as a base of operations. Five large airfields were built by Seabees. B-29 bombers were flown from the island to attack targets in the Western Pacific and on mainland Japan. Guam continued to station enlisted men from the 3rd Marine Division. But racial tensions began in late August when the all-black Marine 25th Depot Company arrived to start loading operations at the newly constructed Naval Supply Depot. Whites of the 3rd Marines Division, some new to the area, tried to prevent black marines from visiting the city and its women.[3]

A black Marine stationed on the island compared the military community to "a city deep down in the South" because of the bigotry he encountered. He said:

Where there are women and white and Negro men, you will find discrimination in large quantities. On Guam, discrimination against blacks involved attempted intimidation by whites who shouted racial slurs, threw rocks, and occasionally hurled smoke grenades from passing trucks into the cantonment area for black sailors of the Naval Supply Depot.[3]

Over the next three months, such racially motivated incidents and a pervasive pattern of discrimination caused tensions to rise between the two groups. A white sailor shot and killed a "black Marine of the 25th Depot Company in a quarrel over a woman; and a sentry from the 27th Marine Depot Company reacted to harassment by fatally wounding his tormentor, a white Marine."[3] Each of these men was eventually court-martialed for voluntary manslaughter, but a race riot erupted on Christmas Eve 1944. Rumors had gone around that another black man had been shot and killed by a white.[3]


First confrontation[edit]

On December 24, a group of nine black Marines from the 25th Depot Company had been given 24-hour holiday passes (for exemplary service) to go into Agana, Guam. While they were in the city, white Marines opened fire on the men when they saw them talking to Chamoru women. The Marines had to run for their lives; eight returned safely to their depot, but one was missing.[4]

In response, 40 black enlisted men loaded into two trucks and drove back to Agana to find the missing man. At the same time, an African-American Marine - who remained at the base - called the Military Police in Agana warning them that the Marines were on their way. The MPs proceeded to erect barricades across all the roads leading into Agana.

When the trucks arrived at a roadblock, a standoff began. Eventually tensions were calmed after a MP officer informed the Marines that the missing man was found safe and returned to the 25th's camp. Satisfied, they turned their trucks around and returned to base.[4]

But around midnight on Christmas morning, a truck filled with armed white Marines drove into the segregated Black camp. They claimed that one of their marines had been hit with a piece of coral thrown by one of the blacks. The standoff ended after the depot's white commanding officer told the white marines to leave.[4]


Racial tensions continued on Christmas Day, when an African-American enlisted man walking back to camp from Agana was shot dead by two drunk white marines. Within hours, another black enlisted man was shot and killed by another drunken white enlisted man in Agana.[4]

Reports of the shootings reached the African-American company. After midnight in the early morning of 26 December, a jeep with white service members opened fire on the African-American depot. Camp guards returned fire, injuring a white MP officer. The whites in the jeep took cover and fled toward Agana, being chased by a group of armed blacks.[4]

The black marines were stopped by white MPs at a roadblock outside Agana. They were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly, rioting, theft of government property, and attempted murder.[4]


Marine Major General Henry Louis Larsen convened a court of inquiry to investigate the riot. Walter Francis White, executive director of the NAACP, happened to be in Guam and participated in fact finding during the investigation. He learned about the pervasive discrimination and harassment directed against the black troops, and testified to these incidents.

Some 43 Marines were tried in courts-martial, convicted and received prison terms of several years each.[5] Due to White's work, some white marines were also charged and convicted for their part in the disturbances.[3][5] The NAACP later successfully campaigned with the Department of Defense and, ultimately, the White House, to have the seamen's guilty verdicts overturned and the black marines were released from prison in 1946.[5][6][7]

See also[edit]

  • Port Chicago disaster—1944 court-martial of 50 African-American Navy men for refusing unsafe munitions loading work following a deadly explosion.
  • Fort Lawton Riot—43 African-American defendants were tried in the resulting US Army courts-martial, the largest such event during World War II.


  1. ^ "The Right to Fight African American Marines in WWII" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 10, 2009. Retrieved 2010-04-28. 
  2. ^ Rottman, G. (2004). Guam 1941 & 1944: Loss and Reconquest, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, p. 86. ISBN 9781841768113
  3. ^ a b c d e Bernard C. Nalty. "The Right to Fight: African-American Marines in World War II", United States Marine Corps Historical Center, National Park Service Archived April 22, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "WORLD WAR II AND AFRICAN AMERICANS (1941-1945)" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  5. ^ a b c Jon E. Taylor, Freedom to Serve: Truman, Civil Rights, and Executive Order 9981, New York: Routledge, 2013, pp. 35-36
  6. ^ L.M. Meriwether, "The American Dilemma: The Negro: Half a Man in a White World", Black World/Negro Digest, Oct 1965, Vol. 14, No. 12, p. 12
  7. ^ Agana, Guam, December 24, 1944: Riot, Jim Crow History[dead link]