In July 1917, the all-black 3rd Battalion of the 24th Infantry Regiment traveled by train from Columbus, New Mexico—near the Mexican border—to Houston. They were tasked with overseeing the construction of a National Guard Auxiliary Training Center.
The soldiers could not fully imagine what awaited them.
Their assignment to guard Camp Logan was to last seven weeks. It lasted barely a month, cut short by a race riot that left 20 dead and three courts-martial. Nineteen soldiers were executed and 63 sentenced to life.
These verdicts stemming from the 1917 Houston Race Riot might not be final, however. As of June 2022, the military has been considering a request for clemency for the 110 soldiers convicted after the three military proceedings stemming from the riot, a spokesperson for the service confirmed to Military.com.
“The denial of justice can never be completely undone,” Michael F. Barry, president and dean of the South Texas College of Law Houston, told The Associated Press.
After the United States entered World War I, they announced the establishment of army training camps to prepare troops for deployment to Europe. One was Camp Logan, located west of downtown Houston.
“The caveat, for Houstonians, was that the facility was free of black soldiers, a common request for cities, especially in the South, seeking military business,” according to a study by Prairie View A&M University. .
It was into this climate of racial discrimination and hostility that the 24th Infantry Regiment – comprising more than 650 black soldiers and their white commanders – was dispatched. Houston executives swore there would be no racial issues, a claim that quickly proved futile.
Rooted in the Jim Crow era, police harassed and abused black soldiers. When the military received passes to enter the city, they endured insults and acts that made it clear that their military uniform did not protect them from discrimination, as they believed. Their mere presence was considered “a threat to racial harmony.”
Tensions escalated on August 23, 1917, after police whipped and arrested a 24th soldier for intervening in the arrest of a black woman. When cap. Charles Baltimore, a military policeman with the battalion, inquired about the soldier’s condition. He was shot, chased to a nearby house and taken to the police station.
Although Baltimore was liberated, a rumor reached the regiment that he had been killed. Reports of a white crowd heading towards the camp added to the confusion, leading more than 150 troops to defy orders to remain on base. They grabbed guns and “began firing wildly in the direction of the supposed crowd,” said an account from the Texas State Historical Association.
According to the non-profit organization Equal Justice Initiative’s version of the incident: “Apparently attacked by local white authorities, more than 150 black soldiers armed themselves and left for Houston to confront police over the violence. persistent. They planned to organize a peaceful march towards the police. station as a protest against police mistreatment. However, just outside the town, the soldiers encountered a crowd of armed white men.
Sixteen white civilians, including five police officers, died, along with four black soldiers.
The soldiers faced a variety of charges including disobeying lawful orders, mutiny, assault with intent to commit murder, and murder. At the first court martial, just over two months after the riot, more than 60 soldiers were tried in the largest murder trial in US history.
“A single lawyer working on a simple two-week prep” represented each defendant. Thirteen of them, including Baltimore, were sentenced to death and not allowed to appeal. They were informed of their sentence on December 9 and hanged two days later.
“I am to be executed this morning,” Baltimore wrote to his brother. “…It is true that I went downtown with the men who left the camp. But I am innocent of having shed blood. But it is God’s will, so don’t worry. … Meet me in paradise.”
Outcry over the soldiers’ treatment led the military to change its appeals review process. Sixteen more soldiers were sentenced to death at the next two courts-martial, but President Woodrow Wilson commuted 10 of them to life imprisonment.
Some soldiers served up to 20 years in prison before their release, according to Prairie View A&M. Two white officers were court-martialed but released; no white civilians were charged.
— Stephen Ruiz can be reached at [email protected].
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