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Reply #127: Brownsville incident of 1906 [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-24-08 03:00 PM
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127. Brownsville incident of 1906
The Brownsville Affair was a racial incident that grew out of tensions between whites in Brownsville, Texas and black infantrymen stationed at nearby Fort Brown. The infantrymen had been subjected to racial discrimination since they arrived. A shooting incident in town on the night of August 13 left a white bartender dead and a police officer wounded. Although white commanders at Fort Brown affirmed that all black soldiers were in their barracks at the time of the shooting, local whites claimed that black soldiers had been seen firing. They produced spent shells from army rifles to allegedly support their statements. Despite evidence that indicated the shells had been planted, investigators accepted the statements of the white community. Although there was no trial, and the men were not given a hearing or the opportunity to confront their accusers, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered 167 black infantrymen discharged without honor because of their alleged conspiracy of silence. Some of the men dismissed had over twenty years of service and were only a short time away from retirement with pensions. All of this was taken away from them. Blacks were furious at Roosevelt's action, and Booker T. Washington was anguished over the unjust action. Although he did not criticize the president publicly, he protested in private; still, Roosevelt dismissed his plea to reconsider. Even some whites criticized the President. A United States Senate committee investigated the episode in 1907-08 and upheld Roosevelt's action.

The investigation, led by Army Inspector General Ernest Garlington largely convicted the unit out of hand with no reliable eyewitnesses or physical evidence. Garlington ordered the soldiers he felt responsible to turn themselves in. Every man of the detachment came forward and swore under oath that they had noting to do with the incident. On November 9, 1906, by Direction of President Theodore Roosevelt and pursuant to War Department Special Order No. 266, all 167 enlisted men of the detachment at Ft Brown were discharged without honor. This was immediate and meant a forfeiture of all rank, retirement, pay and privileges and disqualification from any federal job. All of the men had been volunteers for service and several had known nothing else their entire lives but being a soldier. Many of the men were highly decorated combat veterans. In 1907 Major Penrose and his adjutant Captain Macklin were court-martialed for dereliction of duty but acquitted.

In 1909-10, the Army appointed a Special Board of Inquiry called for in the mens defense by Ohio Senator Joseph Foraker and Booker T Washington met to review the case. Major General Samuel Baldwin Marks-Young was President of the Board that investigated the alleged riot of black soldiers of the 25th Infantry at Brownsville, Texas, August 13, 1906, and affirmed the subsequent dishonorable discharge of 159 men by order of President Theodore Roosevelt. The eight soldiers whose discharge was not affirmed were allowed to re-enlist in the Army at their former ranks. Seven of them accepted and promptly re-enlisted in the 25th at their former ranks with back pay. The other 159 soldiers were written off to an unjust fate and largely forgotten.

Tragically the Army learned nothing from this incident and in 1917 the 24th Infantry, the other black infantry unit in the Army, rioted in Houston, Texas after being attacked by local police. This tragically left 16 whites killed by the soldiers and a court marshal hanging 19 black soliders and discharging another 108.

After a book by John Weaver profiling the incident was published in 1970, U.S. Congressman Augustus F. Hawkins (D-CA) led a campaign to reopen the investigation into the 25th at Brownsville. In September 1972, the Army found the discharged men involved in the Brownsville affair innocent, and President Nixon endorsed their findings. Roosevelt's order was reversed. The mens service records were amended to show that they were honorably discharged. It was found that two of the veterans, in their 80s were still alive. They were awarded $25,000 in separation pay. Twelve widows of the Brownsville Buffalo Soldiers were given $10,000 each.

All were given an apology. It may never be known what happened that night but everyone agrees that more than one grievance was performed.
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