On this dayApr 03, 1911

President William Howard Taft Expels Black Soldiers from San Antonio for Protesting Jim Crow

On April 3, 1911, President William Howard Taft directed the United States Army to expel the Ninth Cavalry, an all-Black unit, from San Antonio, Texas. Earlier that day, the president had met with San Antonio’s U.S. Congressman, John Garner, who urged President Taft to expel the Black calvarymen from the entire State of Texas because their protest of segregated seating on city streetcars threatened local “law and order.”  Immediately afterward, President Taft issued a memorandum to General Wood, the Army’s Chief of Staff, directing the nation’s highest-ranking army official to remove the Ninth Cavalry from San Antonio. 

Two days later, the Black soldiers were relocated to Rio Grande City, Texas, a city near the Mexican border. Local white residents protested the arrival of the Black cavalry soldiers, claiming that Black men who volunteered to serve their country were “continually looking for an opportunity to exercise brutality.” Facing mounting hostility from this white opposition, President Taft ultimately rescinded the order and had the Black troops returned to San Antonio. White Rio Grande City residents adopted a resolution commending the decision, while white San Antonio residents were outraged. In July 1911, the Black soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry were again  removed from San Antonio, this time relocated to Fort Russell, Wyoming.

On the same day that Congressman Garner lobbied for the removal of Black soldiers from San Antonio, he announced plans for legislation that would repeal the Army Organization Act of 1866. That Reconstruction-era law had required the War Department to establish and maintain two Black cavalry units and four Black infantry units in the United States Army, to enable Black men to serve in the otherwise all white, segregated United States military. In 1911, the nation’s army remained segregated, and Black soldiers were barred from serving in all but these six units. Congressman Garner’s proposal repealing the 1866 Act would have given the War Department discretion to abolish the all-Black units—and thus prevent any Black citizens from serving in the military. Congressman Garner in fact intended his proposed legislation to exclude Black soldiers entirely, as he believed that no high-ranking official in the military would permit Black Americans to serve if federal law did not require it. Though the bill did not pass, its proposal— and the punitive treatment of Black soldiers simply fighting for civil rights—  reflects the extreme levels of white resistance to Black military service that characterized the highest offices of government and military institutions. To learn more about racial discrimination and violence faced by Black veterans, read EJI’s report Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans.

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