GM- FBF – Our story today is a prelude to what is happening and
will intensify more in the summer of 1919. The “bloody summer” as it will be
called in many urban areas of the United States, As WWI draws to a close in
America compared to the black troops in France are getting a different
experience. Today’s story will be no different than East . Louis, IL. and other
Remember – “They told us to put on the Uniform and we can show
are support to this Country for the war effort, it was a lie for many of us” –
Unknown Black soldier
Today in our History – On Dec. 11, 1917, 13 black soldiers were
hanged for their part in a little-remembered and deadly race riot. They were
condemned to death after a trial many called unjust.
Now, at a moment when the continuing impact of racism in
policing and criminal justice is a topic of fraught public conversation
throughout the United States, relatives on both sides of that Houston riot are
uniting to preserve the memory of the event and to find some justice for those
It began in July 1917, following America declaring war on
Germany and entering World War I. The 3rd 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 — on the edge of Houston.
From the beginning, the soldiers encountered Jim Crow law and
racism from police and civilians; workers constructing the camp resented their
“They sent these soldiers into the most hostile environment
imaginable,” says Charles Anderson, a relative of Sgt. William Nesbit, one of
the hanged soldiers. “The soldiers should never have been sent there — they
should have remained at their base in New Mexico until the order came to go to
Tensions mounted until around noon on Aug. 23, when the Houston police arrested
a black soldier for allegedly interfering in the arrest of a black woman,
triggering a rapid escalation of events leading to false rumors reaching Camp
Logan by evening that a soldier had been killed and that a white mob was
approaching the camp.
Soldiers grabbed rifles and headed into downtown Houston,
against the orders of their superior officers. The rampage lasted two hours and
involved gun battles between the soldiers and the police and local residents,
with bayonets being used, leaving 16 white locals dead, including five
policemen. Four black soldiers also died.
After tempers finally cooled, the soldiers returned to camp. The
next day martial law was declared in Houston, and the following day the unit
was dispatched back to New Mexico before three courts-martial were convened to
try 118 indicted soldiers.
Sixty-four men were tried in San Antonio, charged with
disobeying orders, mutiny, murder and aggravated assault, during the first court-martial
that began Nov. 1 — the largest murder trial in US military history —resulting
in the 13 death sentences.
“They were represented by just one lawyer and didn’t even have a
chance to appeal,” says Angela Holder, great-niece of Cpl. Jesse Moore, one of
the hanged soldiers, and a history professor at Houston Community College.
“They were denied due process guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Not one Houstonian among the prosecution witnesses could
identify a soldier as having fired shots that killed someone, while routinely
referring to the accused using the n-word. Seven soldiers agreed to testify
against the others in exchange for clemency.
On Nov. 28, the 13 men were found guilty and sentenced to death.
Two weeks later, without an appeal, they were hanged on Dec. 11.
Shortly after the hasty executions, and in the face of
condemnation from both military and civilian figures, the US Army made changes
to its Uniform Code of Military Justice to prevent executions without a
meaningful appeal. These changes remain in place to this day.
It was too late for the soldiers hanged from a scaffold beside
the Salado Creek in San Antonio. But some in Houston say it’s not too late for
some kind of justice. During the Obama presidency, soldiers’ relatives lobbied
— unsuccessfully — for posthumous pardons. The petitions have now been sent to
the Trump White House.
Holder was more successful in 2017 at lobbying the Veterans
Association for gravestones in a Houston cemetery for two soldiers killed
during the riot. And along with other local activists, she also helped organize
the Aug. 23 rededication of a Texas Historical Commission marker at the former
site of Camp Logan to mark the riot’s 100th anniversary.
The ceremony was attended by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who
said the history of the event is “calling us today to be better,” and “for good
people of all backgrounds to speak against hate and stand united.”
And it wasn’t the only 100th anniversary to help focus the minds
of those familiar with the riot on the past, present and future.
“The centennial of the US entry into World War I has likely
brought a heightened awareness of such events and emboldened people to address
a sensitive topic,” says Lila Rakoczy, program coordinator of military sites
and oral history programs at the Texas Historical Commission.
Also, recent national police controversies have struck
unfortunate parallels with events surrounding the riot.
“This was a problem created by community policing in a hostile environment,”
says Paul Matthews, founder of Houston’s Buffalo Soldiers National Museum,
which examines the role of African American soldiers during US military
history. “The soldiers were standing up for America when it wasn’t standing up
A similar perspective is shared by some relatives of those who
suffered because of the rioting soldiers.
“The soldiers were 100 percent wrong for rioting, but I don’t blame them,” says
Jules James, great-nephew of Capt. Bartlett James, one of the battalion’s white
officers who managed to restrain a larger number of soldiers from leaving camp
but died under mysterious circumstances before the court-martial, notes James,
who has researched the history. “The unit had 60 years of excellent
service, was full of experienced veterans but couldn’t endure seven weeks of
Current attempts to deal with this racial tragedy brought Sandra
Hajtman, great-granddaughter of one of the policemen killed, together with
Holder and Anderson when they met to retrace the Houston streets taken by the
“The men did not have a fair trial,” Hajtman says. “I have no doubt about the
likelihood the men executed had nothing to do with the deaths. You have to look
at the whole story, why it happened, and learn from it — both sides bear
Relatives continue waiting for a response to the pardon
petitions. In the meantime, preserving the memory of the Houston riot and its
aftermath has itself served as a kind of justice for the relatives of the
soldiers and police who died because of it.
‘’Sandra Hajtman’s ancestor, who was killed, was a good
policeman and would bring abandoned black children to his home where his wife
would nurse them,” Anderson says. “No one should have lost their life that
night had the right decisions been made. It was a very sad tragedy that did not
need to happen.”
In November, the largest court-martial in U.S. military history
convened at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to try sixty-three soldiers from
the Third Battalion. Thirteen of the convicted men were executed by hanging on
The following year, two additional courts-martial were held and
another sixteen sentenced to hang. Responding to pressure from black leaders,
President Woodrow Wilson commuted the death sentences of ten of the condemned
men. In total, nearly sixty soldiers received life imprisonment for their roles
in the affair. The Houston Mutiny anticipated the “Red Summer” riots of 1919 in
which many African American servicemen retaliated against white mistreatment.
On the other hand because of the Mutiny, the Twenty-fourth Infantry Regiment
was not allowed by the U.S War Department to go to France to fight in World War
Houston marked an anniversary
in December that some in the city would perhaps rather forget — and others
demand be recalled more clearly. Research more about this and other events
leading up to the “Red Summer” and share with your babies. Make it a champion