Army Overturns 1917 Houston Riot Convictions For Black Buffalo Soldiers

This week, the Army announced that it has overturned the convictions of 110 soldiers convicted by court martial in the 1917 Houston Riots and corrected the military records of 95 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment to ‘honorable discharge,’ extending survivor benefits through the VA to their descendents, DeNeen L. Brown reports for the Washington Post. The riots erupted after a series of violent, racist incidents targeting Black soldiers and Black residents by local White police officers in Houston. When false word that a Black Corporal had been killed by police reached the battalion, soldiers marched into the city. During the armed conflict, 19 were killed, including four Black people, 15 White people and 5 police officers. Sixty-three Black soldiers were charged in a court-martial proceeding where they were represented by one non-lawyer with no trial experience. 

The turnaround comes 5 years after descendents of three men who were killed following the riots petitioned the government for posthumous pardons. Those men – William Nesbit, Thomas Coleman Hawkins and Jesse Ball Moore – and 10 others were speedily convicted of murder in what is now considered a defective court-martial proceeding and were sentenced to death by hanging before they had a chance to appeal for clemency. Since then, the Army has reformed its justice system and implemented an appeals process. Army Brig. Gen. Ronald G. Sullivan, chief justice of the Army’s Court of Criminal Appeals, described that due process overhaul during the announcement Monday, describing the convictions of the Buffalo soldiers as a miscarriage of justice. Read more here.

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