The U.S. Army has decided to overturn the convictions of 110 Black soldiers, including 19 who were executed, for their involvement in a mutiny at a military camp in Houston a century ago. This decision comes as an effort to rectify the harsh punishments that were imposed due to racial discrimination during the Jim Crow era.
During a ceremony honoring the Buffalo Soldiers, the regiment sent to Houston in 1917 during World War I to guard a military training facility, U.S. Army officials announced this historic reversal. The clashes that occurred between the Buffalo Soldiers, white police officers, and civilians resulted in the death of 19 individuals.
Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo expressed, “We cannot change the past, but this decision provides us an opportunity to learn from this difficult moment in our history.”
The South Texas College of Law initiated the request for the Army to re-examine these cases in October 2020 and again in December 2021. Retired general officers also submitted clemency petitions on behalf of the 110 soldiers. Consequently, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, at the petition of the secretary of the Army, reviewed the records and identified significant deficiencies in the cases. They determined that the proceedings were fundamentally unfair and unanimously recommended that all convictions be overturned, with the soldiers’ military service characterized as “honorable.”
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth emphasized that this decision acknowledges past mistakes and corrects the record. “After a thorough review, the Board has found that these Soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials,” Wormuth declared.
The Army intends to correct military records as much as possible to recognize the honorable service of these soldiers, and families may be eligible for compensation.
In August 1917, tensions escalated between the all-Black Third Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, and the white population of Houston following racial provocations. The regiment had been stationed in Houston to protect Camp Logan, where white soldiers were being trained for deployment to France during World War I. The racial discrimination entrenched in Jim Crow laws in the city contributed to the conflicts.
During this period, law enforcement painted the events as an intentional assault by Black soldiers on white civilians. However, historians and advocates argue that the soldiers were responding to what they believed to be a threatening white mob. Out of the 118 soldiers involved, 110 were found guilty in what became the largest murder trial in U.S. history, and 19 of them were executed.
The Army’s statement reveals that the first executions were carried out in secret, immediately after the sentencing. This led to subsequent regulatory changes that barred future executions without review by the War Department and the president.
Families of the soldiers may be entitled to benefits and can apply through the U.S. Army Board for Correction of Military Records. Jason Holt, a descendant present at the ceremony, expressed his belief that this day would come, stating, “Today is a day I believed would happen.”