A dark chapter in Memorial Park and U.S. history — one that dates back a century — has taken a step towards the light, thanks to some local advocates.
The South Texas College of Law Houston and the Houston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have partnered to demand clemency for the soldiers of the all-Black Third Battalion of the US Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, the group at the center of the deadly Camp Logan mutiny and racial riot of 1917.
As locals may be aware, Camp Logan later became what’s now known as Memorial Park.
On August 23,1917, just as the U.S. entered WWI, the all-Black 24th regiment — sent to protect the under-construction Camp Logan — mutinied in Houston after a race-related issue with local police. The result was the largest murder trial in U.S. history; 110 out of 118 soldiers were found guilty and 19 were hanged without any chance of appeal. The tragic story was later retold in 2020 in the film The 24th.
Now, these local attorneys and advocates will lobby for honorable discharges for the soldiers and urge the army board for correction of military records to recommend pardons to Joe Biden, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“For the Camp Logan soldiers who were convicted in the absence of due process, and particularly for those who then were executed as the result of those wrongful convictions, the denial of justice can never fully be undone,” said Michael F. Barry, the law school’s president and dean.
A case that highlights the broiling issue of race relations in 20th-century American history (one that still sadly hits home), the riot was sparked when a Black woman was detained by Houston police for allegedly harboring a wanted man. When a Black soldier from the 24th came to her defense, he was beaten. Though he was later released, rumors swirled that he was killed.
With talk of an angry white mob headed for Camp Logan, the Black soldiers, fearing for their lives, fought back during the ensuing riot; 19 people — including four Black soldiers and 15 white civilians — were killed. Five police officers also died.
Advocates now note that the subsequent court proceedings were marked with a lack of due process, a rushed court-martial process, painfully small representation, and the inability of local civilians who witnessed the killings to identify which soldiers were responsible.
“This is a very important step in clearing these soldiers’ names and legacies, and also in advancing the understanding of Camp Logan’s, Memorial Park’s, and Houston’s history,” Shellye Arnold, CEO of Memorial Park Conservancy, writes in an email. The conservancy worked closely with The Buffalo Soldiers Museum, Commissioner Rodney Ellis, the Mayor’s office, Houston City Council Member Abbie Kamin, and Commissioner Jack Cagle to deliver an event series including the screening of The 24th in the park’s Eastern Glades.
Arnold adds that the “agreement and commitment to this work marked significant and deserved recognition for the descendants of these soldiers, Memorial Park, and Houston.”