A group of advocates and attorneys are seeking clemency for 110 Black soldiers who were convicted in the 1917 mutiny and riots at a military camp in Houston. The South Texas College of Law Houston and the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have signed an agreement to continue fighting for clemency for the soldiers of the all-Black Third Battalion of the US Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, according to the Houston Chronicle.
They are planning to ask the Secretary of the Army to posthumously grant honorable discharges and urge the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to recommend pardons to President Joe Biden, the Houston Chronicle said. Some of the soldiers were executed while others were given long prison sentences for their alleged role in the 1917 race riot.
“We are on a quest to obtain justice for the 24th Infantry Regiment…that organized group of men who died with shameful reputations at the hands of those who had the power of the government, the courts and the power of the media,” said Bishop James Dixon, board president of NAACP Houston Branch.
The Houston race riot, also referred to as the Camp Logan mutiny, was one of the only riots in U.S. history in which more White people died than Black people, according to varying accounts. The largest court-martial in U.S. history also followed the unrest.
The little-talked-about riots began in July 1917, after America had declared war on Germany and entered World War I. The Third Battalion of the 24th United States Infantry, a predominantly Black unit, was sent to guard the construction of Camp Logan — part of the new war effort — being constructed on the edge of Houston. From the start, these soldiers met Jim Crow law and racism from police and civilians as well as workers who were constructing the camp. Tensions grew between the soldiers guarding Camp Logan and the Houston police and locals.
Then on August 23, 1917, two White Houston police officers who were chasing a gambling suspect burst into a Fourth Ward home and arrested a Black woman they accused of hiding the suspect. A Black soldier who had interfered in the arrest was also arrested. When one of the Black soldiers went to make inquiries about his arrested colleague, an argument followed suit. The Black soldier had to flee from the police station when the arguments escalated into shots before he was later arrested.
False rumors reached Camp Logan that the soldier had been killed and that a White mob was on its way to the camp. The soldiers who had had enough of the racial tensions and feared what awaited them grabbed their rifles and marched into downtown Houston, against the orders of their superiors. During the two-hour riot, the soldiers, numbering about 100, killed 16 white residents, including five policemen. Four Black soldiers also died.
When tensions had eased, the soldiers returned to camp, and the next day, martial law was declared in Houston. The following day, the unit was dispatched back to New Mexico before three courts-martial were convened to try 118 indicted soldiers, with 110 being found guilty.
Sixty-four men were tried in San Antonio, charged with disobeying orders, mutiny, murder and aggravated assault, during the first court-martial that began November 1, resulting in 13 death sentences, reports PRI.
On November 28, the 13 men were found guilty and sentenced to death. Two weeks later, without an appeal, they were hanged on December 11 from a scaffold beside the Salado Creek in San Antonio. The other soldiers received life sentences, and six more were executed in 1918. Only two White officers faced courts-martial, and they were released. No White civilian was brought to trial.
The hasty executions were condemned by military and civilian figures. To advocates, the soldiers did not have a fair trial.
“They were represented by just one lawyer and didn’t even have a chance to appeal,” Angela Holder, great-niece of Cpl. Jesse Moore, one of the hanged soldiers, said recently. “They were denied due process guaranteed by the Constitution,” Holder, who is also a history professor at Houston Community College added.
Advocates have further indicated that civilian witnesses couldn’t identify a soldier firing shots that killed people.