US Army pardons 110 Buffalo Soldiers convicted in Jim Crow courts-martial
After more than a century, the US Army has pardoned 110 American soldiers imprisoned and, in 19 cases, put to death for their part in the 1917 Camp Logan Riots in Houston. This marks the largest mass execution of American soldiers by the US Army. (1)
The soldiers, all members of the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment, mutinied and rioted following the arrests and assaults by Houston policemen of fellow soldiers, all against a climate of overt racial hostility. (2, 3)
Further, the courts-martial of the alleged mutineers were marked by what generously might be called “irregularities,” but which a more hard-nosed analysis could deem rigged.
“After a thorough review, the [Army Board for Correction of Military Records] has found that these soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials,” said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth. “By setting aside their convictions and granting honorable discharges, the Army is acknowledging past mistakes and setting the record straight.”
The riots took place on Aug 23, 1917, following months of racial provocations against members of the 24th — including the violent arrest and assault of two black soldiers. Following the assaults, and amid rumors of additional threats to soldiers, a group of more than 100 back soldiers seized weapons and marched into the city where clashes erupted. The violence left 19 people dead. (1)
In the months that followed, the Army convicted 110 soldiers, including 19 sentenced to death, in a process that was, according to historians, characterized by numerous irregularities. (1)
The initial trial of 64 defendants was also reportedly the largest murder trial in US history. (4, and see illustration)
The first set of executions occurred in secrecy and within a day of sentencing, leading the Army to implement an immediate regulatory change which prohibited future executions without review by the War Department and the President. (1)
The courts-martial convictions of the 110 solders will be “set aside,” and their military records corrected, “to the extent possible, to characterize their military service as honorable.” Their families might be eligible for compensation, according to the army. (1, 3)
The regiment is one of the famed Buffalo Soldier regiments. Camp Logan is now more familiar as Houston’s Memorial Park (2).