This Day in History

Dec. 11, 1917: Black Soldiers Executed for Houston Riot

Time Periods: World War I: 1910 - 1919
Themes: African American, Racism & Racial Identity

The primary cause of the Houston riot was the habitual brutality of the white police officers of Houston in their treatment of colored people. —The Crisis Magazine, November 1917

Houston Riot Trial

Houston Riot court martial, August 23, 1917. Source: National Archives and Records Administration. Click for caption transcription and more info.

On Dec. 11, 1917, 13 African American soldiers were hanged just outside of San Antonio for alleged participation in the Houston Riot (or Mutiny) in August. The Houston Riot was started after a case of police brutality, as described by the Paris, Texas NAACP here:

At noon [on August 23, 1917], police dragged an African American woman from her home and arrested her for public drunkenness. A soldier from  the camp asked what was going on, and was beaten and arrested as well. When Cpl. Charles Baltimore, an MP, learned of the arrest he went to the police station to investigate. He was beaten, then shot at as he was chased away. Rumors soon reached the camp that Baltimore had been killed, and that a white mob was approaching. Soldiers armed themselves and began their march toward the city.

A riot ensued, leaving 16 white people dead, including five policemen. Four Black soldiers also died.

The army held three courts-martial following the Houston Riot and found 110 African Americans guilty.

Nineteen African American soldiers were executed and 63 received life sentences in federal prison. Two white officers faced court-martial, but they were released. No white civilians were brought to trial.

The 13 soldiers hanged on December 11 were:

Sgt. William C. Nesbitt
Corp. Larsen J. Brown
Corp. James Wheatley
Corp. Jesse Moore
Corp. Charles W. Baltimore
Pvt. William Brackenridge
Pvt. Thomas C. Hawkins
Pvt. Carlos Snodgrass
Pvt. Ira B. Davis
Pvt. James Divine
Pvt. Frank Johnson
Pvt. Rosley W. Young
Pvt. Pat MacWharter

 

Some of the soldiers who received life sentences. Courtesy of Angela Holder and Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

Marker at site of hanging of African American soldiers in Houston.

Learn more from Executed Today and an extensive collection of primary documents on the riot and trial at the South Texas College of Law.

To put this event in historical context, we recommend Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I by Adriane D. Lentz-Smith and Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans from the Equal Justice Initiative.