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Us Army; Hark Back to the Time When 13 Black Soldier's Were Summarily Hanged

Updated on December 4, 2019
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MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a voracious writer on military history

100 years later. It does not absolve the sin of 1913
100 years later. It does not absolve the sin of 1913

Background

To understand what I am going to write one will have to study the background of the United States Army and the American nation. The American nation had in its roots prejudice and discrimination against black men. Part of the American population is of Negroid origin and traces its ancestry to slaves. These were transported from the African continent to the United States.

The purpose of this exodus was to supply cheap labor. This trade of slaves continued for 300 years. When a person comes as a slave, the slave owner would not like to part with him or give him any rights. This is what happened in the USA.

The American army was built on this edifice. At the same time, there was a shortage of foot soldiers and recruitment was opened to the black man. Many blacks took part in the American civil 1861-65. They also took part in the First World War and the Second World War. Unfortunately, right up to 1945 there was discrimination against the black soldier.

US army

The American army claims to have a distinguished history but an examination of the battles fought by the US Army shows that the American army's main victories were only against poorly armed Red Indians and Mexicans. There is no record of the US Army, until 1917 of having fought any major battle against any professional force. This is not to say that the US Army was not capable of combat because when the chips were down they distinguished them in the battles against the Japanese Imperial Army in south-east Asia and armies of Kaiser William II and the Wehrmacht.

Discrimination

The discrimination was so rampant that even during World War II the US Navy never gave any black sailor a job or role which involved coming on deck. They were expected to remain below deck and do all sundry jobs there. The great carrier task force though carrying a smattering of blacks never give them any position of competence.



The Incident


The incident that has come to the fore happened in 1917. A court-martial assembled and 63 black soldiers were tried.13 of the black soldiers were hanged to death without recourse to any appeal and due process of law. This by itself is a black mark on the American army. Hanging of 13 black soldiers without being provided adequate defence for a crime will go down in the annals of military history and military law as one of the great miscarriage of justice

The year 1917 is important because this was the year when the USA entered the war against Germany. The incident as it unfolded makes very sad reading. We must remember that at the time the deep south including Texas, segregation was rampant and though Abraham Lincoln had abolished slavery yet the situation had not changed much in the South.

Gunbattle

à platoon of black soldiers was assigned for duty in Texas to guard a munitions depot. The 3rd Battalion of the 24th United States Infantry, a predominantly black unit, was sent to guard the construction of Camp Logan — part of the new war effort — on the edge of Houston.

The tinder box was about to be ignited as the Whites seeing black soldiers moving around with guns and rifles was like a red rag to a bull. The white supremacist owing allegiance to organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and other extremist groups just could not stomach blacks sporting guns and rifles and moving around the city. For the whites, it was a great provocation. They were incensed that the blacks were allowed to carry arms. The incident commenced when the local police began to beat a black woman.

The black soldiers normally moved around in pairs. One pair of black soldiers observed a black woman with five children being mercilessly beaten by the white policemen. One of the black soldiers intervened and requested the police to stop. The police did not like this one bit and the black soldier was arrested. His companion who went to intercede on his behalf was shot and detained.

Black reaction

News of this reached the black soldiers and an undercurrent of anger swept the troops. it was decided to retaliate against the local white police. Many black soldiers drew their weapons and proceeded to the police station. This resulted in a gun battle and 16 whites and five black soldiers were killed. Among the 16 whites killed were five policemen.

The news of the killings of the white policeman spread like wildfire. The officer commanding's reaction was swift and 63 black soldiers were arrested. Court-martial proceedings were launched against them,
Hanged to death

The court-martial was conducted expeditiously. All the 63 accused were defended by just one officer and the rules of fair play and admissible evidence were studiously ignored. The trial lasted 22 days and 13 soldiers were sentenced to be hanged to death. Worse there was no appeal and all the 13 soldiers were lined up and executed within minutes of the court-martial order having been passed. In the annals of military law, this was the quickest execution ever in the history of the US Army.

News of the hangings reached Washington and secretary defence immediately cabled that the court-martial is stopped. He also informed that henceforth in future there will be no execution until the sanction is received from Washington. This was an excellent decision but did not attend to the root cause of the problem the discrimination against the black soldier.


Future


Over 100 years have elapsed since this incident and now the US Army does consider it to be a matter of shame. In 2017 there was a ceremony to honor the 13 black soldiers who were summarily hanged. Their families are trying for a pardon but nothing has happened so far. The US military did change and much of the credit must go to President Harry Truman who desegregated the troops and opened up all avenues of promotion to the black man. As a result during the Vietnam war, a large percentage of the American army consisted of black soldiers, as many whites never wished to join the army. The army became a source of employment for the black man who could not get any other job.

Unified military code

The American army has now evolved to a great extent and the new unified military code has been promulgated. The US Army would not like to remember the hangings without a proper trial but the important point is that the army got out of this rut and could integrate the black soldier as a part of the war machine.

This remains a sad episode in the history of the US army and should surprise no one that incidents like the one at Charlottesville have taken place and show that the racial divide is not bridged. Probably it never will be and that is a fact that Americans have to face. After all even now nine out of 10 shot dead by police are blacks. This is a sad story.

Last word

it is important to put the incident in its true perspective. There is no doubt in my mind the reaction of the black soldiers to have mutinied and attacked the local police was wrong. Indiscipline cannot be condoned in any army but the followup, the hasty court-martial, and execution without any appeal must also be condemned.

© 2019 MG Singh

Comments

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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Deare Ruby, this as indeed a sad moment. I hope such a thing never takes place again. Sweet of you to have commented.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      5 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This was a sad read. I had not heard of this. What a shame this happened. America has much to atone for when it comes to the treatment of Blacks, plus the Indian, A well written article! Thanks for sharing.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Dear Colonel, I have my doubts also

    • profile image

      Col shamsher Singh 

      5 months ago

      I have spent years in the army and interacted with US servicemen during exercises. I wonder if the color bias is really gone?

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you, Devika. Always a pleasure to interact with you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A history lesson indeed! It is history that I did not know of and a lot to grasp from this information

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you Liz, history cannot be erased and this incident is now much spoken off.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      5 months ago from UK

      I had not heard of this before. Whilst recently watching a documentary on World War 1, i was surprised at how few were in the regular US army when it first joined the war effort.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Dear Manatita, your words are encouraging and bring out your level of spiritualness. Thank you, bro.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 

      5 months ago from london

      You try to balance it and yet give a good account of history and the struggles then and now. I admire that. God bless your wise and honest approach. May the mother goddess continue to bless your soul with wisdom and the light of discrimination and knowledge.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you, Col for commenting

    • profile image

      Lt Col Parduman Singh 

      5 months ago

      Excellent article. It is to the credit of the uS army that they could introspect and come up with remedial measures to integrate the black soldier with others. But alas ! this message does not seem to have percolated down to the white masses.

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