Toronto Star ePaper

Clemency for Buffalo Soldiers

The U.S. army is overturning the convic- tions of 110 Black soldiers — 19 of whom were executed — for a mutiny at a Houston military camp a century ago, an effort to atone for imposing harsh punishments linked to Jim Crow-era racism.

U.S. army officials announced the historic reversal Monday during a ceremony posthumously honouring the regiment known as the Buffalo Soldiers, who had been sent to Houston in 1917, during the First World War, to guard a military training facility. Clashes arose between the regiment and white police officers and civilians, and 19 people were killed.

“We cannot change the past; however, this decision provides the army and the American people an oppor- tunity to learn from this difficult moment in our histo- ry,” U.S. undersecretary of the army Gabe Camarillo said in a statement.

The South Texas College of Law first requested that the army look into the cases in October 2020, and again in December 2021. The army then received clemency petitions from retired general officers on behalf of the 110 soldiers.

At the secretary of the army’s petition, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records reviewed records of the cases and found that “significant defi- ciencies permeated the cases.” The proceedings were found to be “fundamentally unfair,” according to the army’s statement. The board members unanimously recommended all convictions be set aside and the military service of the soldiers’ to be characterized as “honorable.”

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in the statement that the move marks the army’s ac- knowledgement of past mistakes and sets the record straight.

“After a thorough review, the board has found that these soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials,” Wormuth said.

Military records will be corrected to the extent pos- sible to recognize service as honourable and their families might be eligible for compensation, according to the army.

In August 1917, four months after the U.S. entered the war, soldiers of the all-Black Third Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Buffalo Soldiers, marched into Houston where clashes erupted following racial provocations.

Out of 118 soldiers, 110 were found guilty in the largest murder trial in U.S. history. Nineteen of them were hanged.





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