Army Overturns Convictions of 110 Black Soldiers Charged in 1917 Riot


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By Michael Levenson, The New York Times

The Army acknowledged that the Buffalo Soldiers, 19 of whom were hanged, had been convicted in military trials that were tainted by racial discrimination.

Members of the Buffalo Soldiers at the training camp for white soldiers in Houston that they were assigned to guard when clashes erupted on Aug. 23, 1917. (Afro American Newspapers/Gado, via Getty Images)

On Dec. 11, 1917, Pfc. Thomas C. Hawkins and 12 other Black soldiers who had been convicted of mutiny and other crimes during a riot in Houston earlier that year were hanged. It was the single largest mass execution of American soldiers by the Army.

On Monday, more than a century later, the Army said it had formally overturned their convictions and those of 97 other Black soldiers who were found guilty of crimes associated with the riot. The Army acknowledged that the 110 soldiers, 19 of whom were executed, had been convicted in military trials that were tainted by racial discrimination.

The soldiers were members of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, an all-Black unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The Army said their records would be corrected, to the extent possible, to characterize their military service as “honorable.” They will be given proper gravestones acknowledging their Army service, and their descendants will be made eligible for benefits, officials said.


The Army acted after it received a petition requesting clemency for the soldiers that had been written by John Haymond, a historian, and Dru Brenner-Beck, a lawyer. They had cited trial transcripts and other records to show that the soldiers had been denied due process and other basic rights.

Read Jason Holt’s, nephew of Private Hawkins, response to the retroactive decision in the original article.

In more Army news, bases named after Confederates are changing to honor heroes instead.

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