On this dayDec 11, 1917
U.S. Army Executes 13 Black Soldiers in Houston, Texas
In July 1917, the all-African American 3rd Battalion of the 24th United States Infantry Regiment was stationed at Fort Logan, near Houston, Texas, to guard white soldiers preparing for deployment to Europe. From the beginning of their assignment at Fort Logan, the black soldiers were harassed and abused by the Houston police force. Police officers regularly beat African American troops and arrested them on baseless charges, and the soldiers soon reached a breaking point. Early on August 23, 1917, several soldiers, including a well-respected corporal, were brutally beaten and jailed by police. When word of the men’s treatment reached the camp, more than 150 soldiers organized and staged a demonstration that ended in a violent confrontation between soldiers, armed police, and civilians -- leaving 16 civilians and four soldiers dead.
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 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 ten 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.
(Scene during court martial of 64 members of the 24th Infantry, 1917.)