SAN ANTONIO – A group of youths visited a post on Saturday to learn about a piece of history that many in the Alamo City may not know about.
The racial injustice led to riots in Houston and eventually, the largest military trial in U.S. history at Fort Sam Houston. One hundred years ago on Saturday, 13 black soldiers were sentenced and later hanged.
The Bowtie Boys, a group of 40 mentees from the Fort Worth area, learned firsthand what happened at Fort Sam Houston.
The boys range from fourth-graders to high school seniors. They were overcome with emotion when they heard about the Third Battalion of the 24th Infantry Regiment, which consisted of dozens of black men called Buffalo Soldiers.
The Buffalo Soldiers were sent to guard Camp Logan in Houston during World War I. Their fate brought them to San Antonio.
“They always were questioned. Why were they fighting for the United States of America, which treated them like second-class citizens otherwise,” said Rey K.P. Tatum, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
One day, Buffalo Soldier Pvt. Edwards interfered with a white officer who was arresting a black woman because he saw it as unfair treatment. Edwards was thrown in jail. A fellow soldier, Cpl. Baltimore, went to see about the incident. He was beaten, shot at and thrown in jail.
A rumor got back to the camp that Baltimore had been killed, and by the time that was found to be untrue, tempers were already seething.
Unfair treatment of blacks during the Jim Crow era, along with Baltimore’s assault, sparked violent riots on Aug. 23, 1917.
“There were 19 white people that were killed during the riot. The only time in U.S. history that there were more whites killed than blacks during a race riot,” said Bill Manchester, a historian at Fort Sam Houston.
Manchester said among those killed were five white police officers, an Army captain and 13 civilians.
“A truck driver, a young girl, as they were moving through the town, they would shoot up. As they saw people, they would shoot them,” Manchester said.
Sixty-three of the soldiers from the 24th Infantry Regiment were sent to San Antonio and tried in what is still the country’s biggest martial court ever. The nearly one-month trial took place in the Gift Chapel at Fort Sam Houston in November 1917.
“It’s so momentous that I really feel that it's important we go and visit this,” said Avery Pearson, a high school senior.
The group of soldiers were only given one defender, and by the end of the month, the men were found guilty of mutiny, a crime that was punishable by death on Dec. 9, 1917. They were sentenced and never given due process, a notion some find hard to process even today.
Thirteen Buffalo Soldiers were hanged near what is now a golf course at Fort Sam Houston. Six more were hanged at later dates. All the executed men were buried just yards away with nothing but a noose number to indicate who they were.
“We want them to understand is, you may not do something wrong and you may be confronted with issues. You have to fight through those,” Tatum said.
Most of the soldiers were eventually reburied at the Fort Sam Houston Cemetery. To this day, their tombstones lack military detail, but at least now, some of today’s young are able to fill in the blanks.
Monday will mark 100 years since all 13 Buffalo Soldiers were executed. KSAT 12 News will air part two of this special and take viewers to the Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Houston and introduce them to a descendant of one of the soldiers, who is trying to change the way her great uncle and other Buffalo Soldiers are memorialized to help get them posthumous pardon.