Army Overturns Convictions for 110 Soldiers from 1917

Army Overturns Convictions for 110 Soldiers from 1917

Hon. Gabe Camarillo, the Under Secretary of the Army, center, poses for a group photo with descended family members of the afflicted deceased from the 1917 Houston Riots before a ceremony at the Buffalo Soldiers Museum in downtown Houston, Texas on Nov. 13, 2023.
Photo by: U.S. Army/Spc. Noelani Revina

More than 100 years later, the Army is moving to set aside the court-martial convictions of 110 Black soldiers who were convicted after the World War I-era Houston Riots.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth approved the recommendation of the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to set aside the convictions, the Army announced Nov. 13. The soldiers belonged to the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

“After a thorough review, the board has found that these soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials,” Wormuth said in a statement. “By setting aside their convictions and granting honorable discharges, the Army is acknowledging past mistakes and setting the record straight.”

In 1917, soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, were sent to the outskirts of Houston to guard the construction site of what would become Camp Logan, a training site for the National Guard, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

The riots occurred Aug. 23, 1917, after months of racial provocations against the soldiers, including the violent arrest and assault of two Black soldiers, according to the Army. Amid rumors of additional threats, more than 100 Black soldiers seized weapons and marched into the city, where they clashed with the locals. Nineteen people died in the violence, according to the Army.

The Army convicted 110 soldiers in a process that had, according to historians, numerous irregularities, according to the Army. Ultimately, 19 men were executed in the largest mass execution of American soldiers by the U.S. Army, according to information from the service.

In October 2020 and December 2021, the South Texas College of Law petitioned the Army and requested a review of the courts-martial. Shortly afterward, the Army received petitions from retired general officers requesting clemency for all 110 soldiers, according to the Army.

In its review, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records found “significant deficiencies” in the cases against the soldiers, leading it to “acknowledge that the proceedings were fundamentally unfair,” according to the Army.

Board members “unanimously recommended all convictions be set aside,” the Army said, and “to the extent possible, the soldiers’ military service be characterized as ‘honorable.’ ”

“We cannot change the past; however, this decision provides the Army and the American people an opportunity to learn from this difficult moment in our history,” Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo said, according to the Army.