The Murder of Private Samuel Hicks

Spokane's Black Servicemen

Black service members who served their nation in Spokane have faced racial discrimination, including one particularly heinous incident that occurred at Geiger Air Force Base in 1946.

In June 1946, the semi-finals of a Golden Gloves boxing tournament occurred at Geiger Air Force Base. There were 7,000 soldiers in attendance to see the match between a white and Black soldier. After a great showing in the first round, the Black boxer forfeited due to fatigue.

The decision caused immediate controversy. The two hundred Black soldiers in attendance piled around the ring, as no one was sure as to why the match was called. After it was revealed that the Black opponent had forfeited, those in attendance would claim that “someone had tampered with the African American boxer's mouthpiece.” Outrage by the results of the match grew among the crowd. On the way back to their segregated barracks, Black soldiers angrily threw stones at the white barracks and cars. Military police soon arrived to assess the situation and to de-escalate the fight that broke out between the soldiers.

Later that night, Private Samuel Hicks was found miles away from the barracks with a serious skull fracture. He was taken to the base's hospital but died shortly after. The local military officials who investigated the incident failed to find any suspects. Hicks was believed to have been a spectator at the boxing match earlier that evening. The investigators found no leads as to what had occurred at the end of the match that would lead to Private Hicks's death. Colonel Eric Dougan, commanding officer at Grieger reported to local media that the incident was “not a race fight between white and Negro soldiers.”

Journalists at Spokane Daily Chronicle invented a story claiming that hordes of Black soldiers improvised weaponry and attacked white barrack buildings. This inaccurate reporting stoked fear and racial tensions.

The events of this night spread across Spokane and caught the attention of other organizations, such as the Spokesman-Review and the Civil Rights Congress of the Spokane Chapter. The Spokesman-Review took a more sympathetic approach to the story, reporting on the poor conditions Black servicemen experienced on the base and the treatment by the other soldiers. This led to increased pressure on the base by activists to improve the conditions of Black barracks.

Spokane has a long history of Black Servicemen being treated poorly. Racial segregation in the military only ended with Executive Order 9981 in 1948.

The murder of Samuel Hicks was never solved.