A deadly riot, then 3 trials, 110 convictions and 19 executions

[Race/Related is available as a newsletter. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox .] SAN ANTONIO — Charles Anderson slowly app...


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SAN ANTONIO — Charles Anderson slowly approached the altar of the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Gift Chapel and focused on a grainy, century-old photo of 63 Black soldiers. He quickly spotted his distant cousin, Sgt. William C. Nesbit, and passed his hand over his relative’s stoic expression.

The photograph showed Sergeant Nesbit and 62 other members of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry at a military trial for their alleged roles in a deadly 1917 Houston riot that left 19 people dead. Mr Anderson’s cousin and 12 others were later found guilty and hanged from a gallows near Salado Creek, which runs through San Antonio, in what military officials are now calling one of the most unfair military trials in America. country’s history.

Earlier this week, Mr Anderson and two other descendants of the executed soldiers gave a somber tour of where their loved ones spent their final hours. When Mr Anderson entered the chapel, which served as a courtroom to accommodate the 63 defendants, he shook his head and tried to imagine how his parent must have felt at the time.

Sergeant Nesbit belonged to the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment, which was responsible for overseeing the construction of a training camp for white soldiers in Houston. The predominantly white population greeted them with racial epithets and physical abuse. Tension erupted in a deadly riot on Aug. 23, 1917, said John A. Haymond, a military historian who led the tour. The uprising lasted more than two hours and left 19 dead – a mix of 15 white police, soldiers and civilians and four black soldiers, according to historical records.

“I’m standing here where he was sitting,” Mr Anderson said. “He must have been so scared. Some of them had hope until the very end.

There was a measure of hope on Tuesday when military officials and members of the Buffalo Soldiers, a fraternity of black soldiers, joined the descendants of the dead in a solemn ceremony to commemorate their sacrifices. Officials unveiled a marker on the cemetery grounds, a short walk from where the soldiers are buried. Titled “The Legacy of Houston’s ‘Mutineers'”, which includes the rare photo from the military trial and a heartbreaking headline from the San Antonio Express that read “13 Negroes Executed”.

The trial was later decried as depriving the soldiers of a fair trial. Their defense was led by a single officer who had some legal experience but was not a lawyer., and they were denied any opportunity to appeal their conviction. In total, there were three trials, 110 convictions and 19 executions.

The Pentagon is considering a leniency request. The injustice has since served “as a catalyst for change in our military justice system,” said Gabe Camarillo, Under Secretary of the Army.

Today, every soldier has the right to appeal a conviction and every execution must be reviewed by a sitting US president, Camarillo said.

In 1937, the soldiers’ bodies were moved from the unmarked graves to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

“Today they will finally begin to receive a small measure of the dignity they have long deserved,” Donald Remy, Undersecretary of Veterans Affairs, said of the memorial and signage.

Yet even though it has been over 100 years, the pain is fresh for the living relatives of these young soldiers.

When the tour group reached the building where the soldiers were being held before their execution, Angela Holder, a great-niece of Corporal Jesse Moore, took a deep breath and ran her hand over the red bricks, windows and doors to the structure that now serves as army offices.

“They were taken from here,” Ms Holder told Jason Holt, the nephew of another fallen soldier. “They were so young. They didn’t get a chance to live their lives.

Mrs. Holder bit her lip to keep from crying.

Inside this exposed brick building, Mr. Holt’s uncle, Pvt. Thomas Hawkins, wrote a final letter to his parents on December 11, 1917, hours before his death.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Holt had read excerpts from the letter at the event. “I am sentenced to hang for the disturbances in Houston,” Mr. Holt read aloud, occasionally pausing to regain his composure. “Although I am not guilty of the crime I am charged with Mother, it is God’s will that I go now and in this way.”

Later, Mr Haymond, the military historian who led the tour, led the family members to the site where the men were executed, not far from where the primary school now stands from the base. He then led them to an area a short walk from Salado Creek, where the men had already been buried, not with their dog tags, but each with an empty soda bottle containing a piece of paper with his name written on it. .

Mr. Holt made his way through the brush and looked around at the dry trees. “That doesn’t seem big enough for 13,” he said to himself mostly.

Mrs. Holder held her breath and stared at the dirt floor in disbelief. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “That’s no way to bury a human being.”

She walked towards the main road and took one last look. Coming here, she said, was painful, but necessary.

“I’m glad this is all coming out now,” she said, “so it never happens again.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: A deadly riot, then 3 trials, 110 convictions and 19 executions
A deadly riot, then 3 trials, 110 convictions and 19 executions
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