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The Brownsville Affair: How 167 Black Infantrymen were Dishonorably Discharged with No Evidence and No Trial

 

The Brownsville Affair was a racial incident that grew out of tensions between whites in Brownsville, Texas and black infantrymen stationed at nearby Fort Brown. The infantrymen had been subjected to racial discrimination since they arrived. A shooting incident in town on the night of August 13 left a white bartender dead and a police officer wounded. Although white commanders at Fort Brown affirmed that all black soldiers were in their barracks at the time of the shooting, local whites claimed that black soldiers had been seen firing. They produced spent shells from army rifles to allegedly support their statements.

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Despite evidence that indicated the shells had been planted, investigators accepted the statements of the white community. When the black soldiers were pressured to name who fired the shots, they insisted that they had no knowledge of the shooting. Although there was no trial, and the men were not given a hearing or the opportunity to confront their accusers, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered 167 black infantrymen discharged without honor because of their alleged conspiracy of silence.

 

Some of the men dismissed had over twenty years of service and were only a short time away from retirement with pensions. All of this was taken away from them. Blacks were furious at Roosevelt’s action, and Booker T. Washington was anguished over the unjust action. Although he did not criticize the president publicly, he protested in private; still, Roosevelt dismissed his plea to reconsider. Even some whites criticized the President. A United States Senate committee investigated the episode in 1907-08 and upheld Roosevelt’s action.

 

In 1970, John D. Weaver’s THE BROWNSVILLE RAID investigated the incident in depth, and the writer concluded that the discharged soldiers had been innocent. The army conducted a new investigation and, in 1972, reversed the order of 1906.

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Written by PH

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