[ Summary ]
HOUSTON RIOT OF 1917. In the spring of 1917, shortly after the United States declared war on Germany, the War Department, taking advantage of the temperate climate and newly opened Houston Ship Channel, ordered two military installations built in Harris County—Camp Logan and Ellington Field. The Illinois National Guard was to train at Camp Logan, located on the
On August 23, 1917, a riot erupted in Houston. Near noon, two policemen arrested a black soldier for interfering with their arrest of a black woman in the Fourth Ward of Houston. Early in the afternoon, when Cpl. Charles Baltimore, one of the twelve black military policemen with the battalion, inquired about the soldier's arrest, words were exchanged and the policeman hit Baltimore over the head. The MPs fled. The police fired at Baltimore three times, chased him into an unoccupied house, and took him to police headquarters. Though he was soon released, a rumor quickly reached Camp Logan that he had been shot and killed. A group of soldiers decided to march on the police station in the Fourth Ward and secure his release. If the police could assault a model soldier like Baltimore, they reasoned, none of them were safe from abuse. Maj. Kneeland S. Snow, battalion commander, initially discounted the news of impending trouble. Around 8 P.M. Sgt. Vida Henry of I Company confirmed the rumors, and Kneeland ordered the first sergeants to collect all rifles and search the camp for loose ammunition. During this process, a soldier suddenly screamed that a white mob was approaching the camp. Black soldiers rushed into the supply tents, grabbed rifles, and began firing wildly in the direction of supposed mob. The white officers found it impossible to restore order. Sergeant Henry led over 100 armed soldiers toward downtown Houston by way of Brunner Avenue and San Felipe Street and into the Fourth Ward. In their two-hour march on the city, the soldiers killed fifteen whites, including four policemen, and seriously wounded twelve others, one of whom, a policeman, subsequently died. Four black soldiers also died. Two were accidentally shot by their own men, one in camp and the other on San Felipe Street. After killing a member of the National Guard, obviously mistaking him for a policeman, the soldiers began quarreling over a course of action. After two hours, Henry advised the men to slip back into camp in the darkness.
64 Members of the 24th Infantry were present at the Mutiny Trial in November 1917. Image available on the Internet.
Early next morning, August 24, civil authorities imposed a curfew in Houston. On the twenty-fifth, the army hustled the Third Battalion aboard a train to Columbus, New Mexico. Between November 1, 1917, and March 26, 1918, the army held three separate courts-martial in the chapel at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. The military tribunals indicted 118 enlisted men of I Company for participating in the mutiny and riot, and found 110 guilty. It was wartime, and the sentences were harsh. Nineteen mutinous soldiers were hanged and sixty-three received life sentences in federal prison. One was judged incompetent to stand trial. Two white officers faced courts-martial, but they were released. No white civilians were brought to trial. The first thirteen hanged soldiers are known as The “Houston 13” were condemned to death at an unjust trial. The soldiers did not receive due process or the right to petition for clemency. The Houston Mutiny and Riot of 1917 was one of the saddest chapters in the history of American race relations. It vividly illustrated the problems that the nation struggled with on the home front during wartime..