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110 U.S. Black men soldiers convicted in 1917 finally vindicated over 100 years later to 'honorable'

In 1917, 19 Black soldiers were hung secretly without a trial by U.S. Army officials


Defendants during the first court-martial in November 1917. National Archives and Records Administration

This month, the U.S. Army publicly corrected a grave mistake that is eternally a part of our American history--it was on December 11, 1917 when one of the largest mass execution of American Black soldiers in the history of the U.S. Army occurred ...

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth approved the recommendation of the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to set aside the courts-martial convictions of the 110 Black Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment (also known as the Buffalo Soldiers), who were convicted following the World War I-era Houston Riots. The records of these Soldiers will be corrected, to the extent possible, to characterize their military service as honorable.

"After a thorough review, the Board has found that these Soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials," said Wormuth. "By setting aside their convictions and granting honorable discharges, the Army is acknowledging past mistakes and setting the record straight."


So what was the precursor to this mass execution?


On Aug. 23, 1917, the Houston Riots took place following months of racial provocations against members of the 24th Infantry Regiment — including the violent arrest and assault of two Black Soldiers. Following the assaults, and amid rumors of additional threats to Soldiers, a group of more than 100 Black Soldiers seized weapons and marched into the city where clashes erupted. The violence left 19 people dead.

In the months that followed, the U.S. Army convicted 110 Soldiers in a process that was, according to historians, characterized by numerous irregularities. Ultimately, nineteen men were executed in the largest mass execution of American Soldiers by the U.S. Army. The first set of executions occurred in secrecy and within a day of sentencing, leading the Army to implement an immediate regulatory change which prohibited future executions without review by the War Department and the President.


In October 2020 and December 2021, the South Texas College of Law petitioned the Army requesting a review of the courts-martial. Shortly after, the Army received petitions from retired general officers requesting clemency for all 110 Soldiers.

“As a Texas native, I was grateful to participate in this process early in my tenure at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, and I am proud that the Army has now formally restored honor to Soldiers of the 3-24 and their families,” Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said. “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.”


The Secretary of the Army asked the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to review records pertaining to these court-martial cases and to provide recommendations about the appropriateness of each individual conviction. After careful review, board members adjudicated each case and found that significant deficiencies permeated the cases. These deficiencies led the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to acknowledge that the proceedings were fundamentally unfair. The board members unanimously recommended all convictions be set aside and that, to the extent possible, the Soldiers’ military service be characterized as "honorable."

“With the support of our experts, our dedicated Board members looked at each record carefully and came up with our best advice to Army leaders to correct a miscarriage of justice,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Review Boards Michael Mahoney, who oversaw the review. “We’re proud of the hard work we did to make things right in this case.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been deeply involved as this case has unfolded and is prepared to assist any family members upon receipt of the corrected records.


Relatives of the soldiers may be entitled to benefits. Instructions for applying to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records can be found at https://arba.army.pentagon.mil/abcmr-app.html. Family members may apply online at https://arba.army.pentagon.mil/online-application.html or submit a DD Form 149, Application for Correction of Military Record by mail to: Army Review Boards Agency (ARBA), 251 18th Street South, Suite 385, Arlington, VA 22202-3531. Applications should include documentation to prove a relationship to one of the 110 formerly convicted Soldiers.

Family members or other interested parties may request a copy of the corrected records from the National Archives and Records Administration, in accordance with NARA Archival Records Request procedures found at: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records.


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