The convictions of 110 Black soldiers, 19 of whom were executed after being found guilty of murder, mutiny, and assault following a riot that occurred during the summer of 1917 will be overturned by the United States Army, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Deputy Secretary of the Army Michael Mahoney instructed the Army Review Boards Agency to “set aside” the convictions of all soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment.
The incident occurred when a group of Black soldiers directed to protect Camp Logan, a seven-acre training base, following the declaration of war on Germany by the United States in the spring of 1917. The Black soldiers were assigned to travel by train with seven white officers from Columbus, N.M.
On Aug. 23, 1917, an altercation took place between Camp Logan soldiers and white citizens that left 17 people dead, mostly white, “including five police officers.”
On the day, local police took one of the Camp Logan soldiers into custody for reportedly interfering with the arrest of a Black woman who was playing a game of craps.
Cpl. Charles Baltimore, a Black military police officer, was struck on his head when he inquired about the soldier's arrest and was taken into custody which sparked a rumor that he died. He eventually returned to the camp in the evening bloodied from his wound.
Later that night, a shot was heard, and soldiers armed themselves to form a defensive perimeter around the camp, and Sgt. Vida Henry instructed “the soldiers to march out of the camp in formation” out of Camp Logan.
More than 150 Black soldiers exited the camp and marched on the Houston city limits to confront police, according to The Denver Gazette.
Three separate court-martials were held at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio between Nov. 1, 1917, and March 26, 1918. The result led to 118 enlisted men from the battalion and found 110 of them guilty.
After 12 hours of deliberating, Maj. Gen. John Ruckman sentenced 13 soldiers to a public hanging, and in September 1918, six more soldiers were executed.
“This is not only the largest murder trial in American history, but this is also the largest court-martial in American history, and no case this large or this serious with this many death penalties has ever been completely overturned by the Army on review,” historian John Haymond told the Chronicle. “In legal terms, you would say this case is sui generis, meaning that it stands alone. It is truly unique.
Jason Holt, an attorney from New Jersey lawyer and descendant of Pfc. Thomas C. Hawkins, one of the executed soldiers, said that sending Black soldiers to a southern city was a recipe for disaster.
“The country was still in the throes of the Jim Crow era and not many years post-slavery,” Holt said.“With T.C. Hawkins, there’s conflicting testimony as to where he was and what happened during the course of the incident. I’m not suggesting that there was the appropriate amount of fairness with any of the soldiers.”
On Monday (Nov 13), a ceremony was scheduled at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum to commemorate the restoration of the “rights and privileges of each soldier convicted will see their families become eligible for benefits” after a ruling by Army Secretary Christine Wormut
"It can't bring them back, but it gives them peace," Angela Holder, a family member of Cpl. Jesse Moore noted. "Their souls are at peace."