A group of advocates, including a local NAACP chapter, are looking to clear the names of 110 Black World War I soldiers found guilty of the deadly Camp Logan riot in the summer of 1917. Some of the men were given life sentences and others were executed in what would go down as the largest murder trial in United States history.
The all-Black Third Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment was tasked with guarding Camp Logan in Houston, Texas, in a town ripe with racism and discrimination. According to the Associated Press, law enforcement originally reported that it was a “premeditated assault”, but now it’s believed that the men were defending themselves against a white mob following a deadly bout of hearsay.
Here’s more from AP:
The all-Black regiment had been dispatched to Houston to guard Camp Logan, which was under construction for the training of white soldiers who would be sent to France during World War I.
In Houston, a city governed by Jim Crow laws at the time, tensions boiled over.
The riot was fueled by a confrontation between white Houston police officers and a Black woman whom they accused of hiding a wanted man. A soldier from the 3rd Battalion came to her defense and the officers beat him. The beaten soldier was released from custody, but rumors swirled that he had been killed. Some soldiers urged the unit to march on the police station, and others heard of an angry, white mob heading for the camp.
During the riot, 19 people died, including four Black soldiers and 15 white civilians, according to Prairie View A&M University. Five local police officers died.
While advocates note many of the Black soldiers disobeyed orders and left camp fully armed, they add there was a lack of due process, a rushed court-martial process and an inability of local civilians who witnessed the killings to identify which soldiers were responsible.
According to KHOU 11, only one attorney represented 63 of the soldiers that were put on trial all at the same time. 19 soldiers were executed and another 40 served life sentences.
Camp Logan is now Memorial Park, a popular community gathering space.
“People walk or jog through the park today not knowing the untold history of Camp Logan took place,” said president of the Houston Chapter of the NAACP, Bishop James Dixon, according to KHOU.
The South Texas College of Law Houston and the NAACP Houston branch are planning to ask the Secretary of the Army to posthumously grant the men honorable discharges as well as fight for pardons from President Joe Biden.
“The punishment they served can’t be changed, but their reputations can be,” said Professor Geoffrey Corn from South Texas College of Law Houston, according to KHOU.
“The Army failed them and they can recognize that by granting this clemency,” he said.