On this dayDec 11, 1917
U.S. Army Executes 13 Black Soldiers in Houston, Texas
On December 11, 1917, the U.S. Army executed 13 Black soldiers who had been previously court-martialed and denied any right to appeal. In July 1917, the all-Black 3rd Battalion of the 24th United States Infantry Regiment was stationed at Camp Logan, near Houston, Texas, to guard white soldiers preparing for deployment to Europe. From the beginning of their assignment at Camp Logan, the Black soldiers were harassed and abused by the Houston police force.
Early on August 23, 1917, several soldiers, including a well-respected corporal, were brutally beaten and jailed by police. Police officers regularly beat African American troops and arrested them on baseless charges; the August 23 assault was the latest in a string of police abuses that had pushed the Black soldiers to their breaking point.
Seemingly under attack by local white authorities, over 150 Black soldiers armed themselves and left for Houston to confront the police about the persistent violence. They planned to stage a peaceful march to the police station as a demonstration against their mistreatment by police. However, just outside the city, the soldiers encountered a mob of armed white men. In the ensuing violence, four soldiers, four policemen, and 12 civilians were killed.
In the aftermath, the military investigated and court-martialed 157 Black soldiers, trying them in three separate proceedings. In the first military trial, held in November 1917, 63 soldiers were tried and 54 were convicted on all charges. At sentencing, 13 were sentenced to death and 43 received life imprisonment. The 13 condemned soldiers were denied any right to appeal and were hanged on December 11, 1917.
The second and third trials resulted in death sentences for an additional 16 soldiers; however, those men were given the opportunity to appeal, largely due to negative public reactions to the first 13 unlawful executions. President Woodrow Wilson ultimately commuted the death sentences for 10 of the remaining soldiers facing death, but the remaining six were hanged. In total, the Houston unrest resulted in the executions of 19 Black soldiers. NAACP advocacy and legal assistance later helped secure the early release of most of the 50 soldiers serving life sentences. No white civilians were ever brought to trial for involvement in the violence.