HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Army is overturning the convictions of 110 Black soldiers — 19 of whom were executed — for a mutiny at a Houston military camp a century ago, an effort to atone for imposing harsh punishments linked to Jim Crow-era racism.
U.S. Army officials announced the historic reversal Monday during a ceremony posthumously honoring the regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers, who had been sent to Houston in 1917, during World War I, to guard a military training facility. Clashes arose between the regiment and white police officers and civilians, and 19 people were killed.
“We cannot change the past; however, this decision provides the Army and the American people an opportunity to learn from this difficult moment in our history,” Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said in a statement.
The South Texas College of Law first requested that the Army look into the cases in October 2020, and again in December 2021. The Army then received clemency petitions from retired general officers on behalf of the 110 soldiers.
At the secretary of the Army’s petition, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records reviewed records of the cases and found that “significant deficiencies permeated the cases.” The proceedings were found to be “fundamentally unfair,” according to the Army’s statement. The board members unanimously recommended all convictions be set aside and the military service of the soldiers’ to be characterized as “honorable.”
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in the statement that the move marks the Army’s acknowledgement of past mistakes and sets the record straight.
“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 said.
Military records will be corrected to the extent possible to recognize service as honorable and their families might be eligible for compensation, according to the Army.
In August 1917, four months after the U.S. entered World War I, soldiers of the all-Black Third Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, marched into Houston where clashes erupted following racial provocations.
The regiment had been sent 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. The city was then governed by Jim Crow laws, and tensions boiled over.
Law enforcement at the time described the events as a deadly and premeditated assault by the soldiers on a white population. Historians and advocates say the soldiers responded to what was thought to be a white mob heading for them.
Out of 118 soldiers, 110 were found guilty in the largest murder trial in U.S. history. Nineteen of them were hanged.
According to the Army’s statement, the first executions happened secretly a day after sentencing. It led to immediate regulatory changes prohibiting future executions without review by the War Department and the president.
Families of the soldiers may be entitled to benefits and can apply through a U.S. Army Board for Correction of Military Records.
“Today is a day I believed would happen,” Jason Holt, a descendant in attendance at the ceremony, said, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I always did.”