December 11th, 1917
Thirteen Black Soldiers Executed After Revolt Sparked by Local Police Brutality in Houston, Texas
In July 1917, the all-African American 3rd Battalion of the 24th United States Infantry Regiment was stationed at Fort Logan, near Houston, Texas, to guard white soldiers preparing for deployment to Europe. From the beginning of their assignment at Fort Logan, the black soldiers were harassed and abused by the Houston police force. Police officers regularly beat African American troops and arrested them on baseless charges, and the soldiers soon reached a breaking point. Early on August 23, 1917, several soldiers, including a well-respected corporal, were brutally beaten and jailed by police. When word of the men’s treatment reached the camp, more than 150 soldiers organized and staged a revolt. It ended in a violent confrontation between soldiers, armed police, and civilians that left 16 civilians and four soldiers dead.
One hundred fifty-seven black soldiers involved in the revolt were investigated and court-martialed and three separate trials were scheduled. In the first military trial, held in November 1917, 63 soldiers were tried and 54 were convicted on all charges. At sentencing, 13 were sentenced to death and 43 received life imprisonment. The 13 condemned soldiers were denied any right to appeal and were hanged on December 11, 1917.
The second and third trials resulted in death sentences for an additional 16 soldiers; however, they were given the opportunity to appeal, largely due to negative public reactions to the first 13 unlawful executions. President Woodrow Wilson ultimately commuted the death sentences for ten of the remaining soldiers facing death, but six more were hanged. In total, the Houston unrest resulted in the executions of 19 black soldiers. NAACP advocacy and legal assistance later helped secure the early release of most of the 50 soldiers serving life sentences.
(Scene during court martial of 64 members of the 24th Infantry, 1917.)