The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Houston Army Mutineers Vindicated

Nov 27, 2023

The U.S. Army on November 13 of this year dismissed the convictions of 110 black soldiers who had been accused of mutiny, murder, and assault during a soldiers’ uprising in Houston, Texas during World War I. The Army will correct their military records to honorable discharges and give survivors’ benefits to their families. The families and their supporters have been fighting for this for 105 years!

The soldiers were part of the Army’s all-black 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, originally formed during Reconstruction in 1869. The unit had fought on the Western frontier, where, along with similar regiments, its troops were known as Buffalo Soldiers. In late July 1917, the Army sent the troops from their camp in New Mexico to guard the construction of new Camp Logan in Houston. To accommodate racists in Houston, the Army said the black guards would be unarmed while on duty and would have to call for white city police to make any arrests.

But on August 23, two of the city’s most notoriously racist cops beat and arrested a well-respected local black woman, claiming she hid a fugitive from a dice game they broke up. Then the cops beat and arrested two Buffalo Soldiers who confronted them about how they treated the woman. Back on post, around 156 troops decided to march downtown to save their comrades. The white commander of the battalion ordered the troops’ rifles and ammunition collected, and all passes to town canceled. The soldiers stopped the commander at gunpoint and rushed the supply tents to seize their rifles. After a half-hour gunfight, around 100 broke out of the base and started marching toward the police station. During several gunfights with cops and racists along the way, 16 people died.

By the next day, the Army had arrested the soldiers. The Army charged 118 men with serious crimes, and 110 were found guilty. Their case was the largest murder trial and court martial in U.S. history. Nearly 200 witnesses testified, producing over 2,000 pages of trial testimony. The soldiers were defended by one officer untrained in the law. A general sentenced 19 to death. The Army hanged them and buried them in unmarked graves. The general sentenced another 53 to life in prison.

The city and the Army tried to bury the story. The families and the NAACP held petition drives to have the sentences reduced and the soldiers paroled. The final mutineer was finally released 20 years later. The families have kept on fighting for justice for more than a century.