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Reply #129: Houston shootout of 1917 [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-25-08 08:40 AM
Response to Reply #127
129. Houston shootout of 1917
Unfortunately, the Army didn't learn its lesson back in 1906.

In 1917, Congress declared war on Germany. The black community supported the war, but with serious reservations; black soldiers, they knew, would suffer discrimination in a Jim Crow army. In the summer of 1917, soldiers of the all-black Third Battalion, 24th infantry, were assigned to Fort Logan outside of Houston, Texas. Houston had the largest black community in the state of Texas at the time, with a police force that was particularly aggressive towards black people.

Racial conflicts quickly began to escalate, as troops from the 24th began receiving verbal abuse from not only white civilians, but also soldiers from the 5th Infantry of the Texas National Guard temporarily assigned to duty downtown. Clashes developed between the police and the soldiers, many of whom were not Southerners and not used to segregation. The soldiers suffered beatings and unjustified arrests from the police.

On the day of the riot, Houston mounted officers Rufus Daniels and Lee Sparks arrested Private Alonzo Edwards of Company L for interfering in the arrest of a black female. Later that day, Corporal Charles Baltimore, a military policeman with the 24th, approached Officers Daniels and Sparks and began arguing about the treatment of Private Edwards. Officer Sparks became annoyed at a black soldier questioning one of his arrests, and struck him with his pistol, then fired at the fleeing corporal three times as Baltimore ran away. Baltimore was found hiding under a bed at a nearby residence and arrested. He had not been hit by Sparks' gunfire. A rumor spread that Corporal Baltimore had been killed by the police, his fellow soldiers prepared to march into town and take revenge. Baltimore had been beaten by the police but was not dead, but the soldiers had passed their emotional point of no return. They marched into town and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, 16 whites, including police officers, civilians, and Texas and Illinois National Guardsmen were killed. No black civilians were killed, but 4 soldiers from the 24th Infantry were.

In San Antonio, in the largest court martial ever held, 110 soldiers were convicted on a range of charges. Twenty-six were sentenced to death, though nineteen men were executed; forty-three sentenced to life imprisonment. Because it was a rushed and secret court-martial, the first thirteen to die were not told their sentence, nor the date of their execution, until hours before they were to die. They were denied their right to appeal to the president and were hanged on the night of December 11, 1917. The protest against the denial of the men's right of appeal caused President Woodrow Wilson to commute the sentences of some of the other men scheduled to die.

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