The Houston Riot of 1917 featured in current The Black History Bulletin
By Paul LaRue, member Ohio WWI Centennial Committee
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site
For more than eighty years The Black History Bulletin has provided the education community with high quality content. The Black History Bulletin is a part of A.S.A.L.H (The Association for the Study of African American Life and History). A.S.A.L.H. was founded in 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The current issue of The Black History Bulletin (Volume 84, No.1) features the theme "THE POWER OF PROTEST: THEN AND NOW." The Houston Riot of 1917 is included in the current issue.
The Houston Riot was one of the most important incidents impacting Black military service in World War I. The Texas World War I Centennial, Prairie View A & M University, and The Texas State Historical Society have all worked to document and commemorate the event. The Black History Bulletin article “Black Soldiers and Revolution: The Houston Riot of 1917” examines the impact of the Houston Riot on all Americans. The article includes a lesson plan for teachers.
More than 380,000 Black Soldiers and Sailors served in World War I. Unfortunately, there were several negative events that shaped Black America's World War I experience. Examples of these events include the treatment of Colonel Charles Young by the U.S. Army, the lack of a Medal of Honor for the heroism of Sgt. Henry Johnson and the lynching of returning African American soldiers, including at least one soldier still wearing his World War I uniform. The events in Houston in the fall of 1917 had a similar impact on Black Americans' perceptions of World War I service.
Soon after war was declared in April of 1917, the United States began the process of preparing manpower for the war in Europe. This included building a series of camps and cantonments for troops. Construction of Camp Logan near Houston, Texas began in July of 1917. Soon after construction began, the Third Battalion of the 24th United States Infantry was sent to Camp Logan. Shortly after the Soldiers from the 24th United States Infantry arrived at Camp Logan trouble began with Houstonians unhappy with Black Troops being stationed nearby. Conflicts between the soldiers and local police began happening.
On August 24th a soldier from the 24th intervened in a situation between a Black woman and the Houston Police. The soldier was beaten and jailed by the Houston Police; the provost guard from the 24th Infantry was also beaten by police. Word quickly traveled to camp, and approximately 100 armed soldiers started toward town. When the riot was over, fifteen Houstonians and four soldiers had been killed. 118 soldiers were put on trial, 110 were found guilty, 19 were hung, and 68 soldiers received life sentences.
America followed the events of the riot and subsequent trials with great interest. Newspapers across the country (both Black and White) carried lurid accounts of the events. One hundred and four years later the events of the Houston Riot are largely forgotten in US history, much like a similar incident that occurred in Brownsville, Texas in 1906.
More than fifty years before the Houston Riot of 1917, Frederick Douglass wrote, "Once let the Black Man get upon his person the brass letter, U. S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship." The events in Houston in 1917 challenge Douglass' assessment.
The Houston Riot of 1917 is a complex and important chapter in World War I history. The current issue of The Black History Bulletin helps educators better understand and use the events of the Houston Riot of 1917 in their classrooms.
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