Black Americans In The US Military From The American Revolution To The Korean War: The Brownsville Incident And Teddy Roosevelt

The Brownsville Incident: A War at Home

At the second Niagra Conference in 1906, W.E.B. Du Bois, forerunner of the NAACP, demanded full manhood rights. It was made clear that this message went to all Americans, but it enraged the South nevertheless. Several race riots broke out, the worst in Atlanta where 60 blacks were lynched.

It came to no surprise that more problems occurred when 170 Blacks from the 25th Infantry’s 1st Battalion were ordered to train alongside the Texas National Guard at Fort Brown, in Brownsville, Texas. Upon their arrival, these soldiers received a cold welcoming of signs barring Blacks from stores and parks. The citizens of Brownsville quietly watched their arrival, showing no respect.

Shots were heard outside Fort Brown on the night of August 13th, arousing the 25th. The soldiers noticed that someone had broken into the camp and unlocked rifle racks. Within the town, unknown attackers killed one person and wounded several others. Further investigation found Springfield rifle clips, and it was immediately assumed that Black soldiers were at fault. Eight out of twenty-two witnesses claimed that the attackers were Black.

The State Department demanded the three companies of the 25th name the gunmen or face summary dismissal. Still, every soldier denied any knowledge of the attackers. President Theodore Roosevelt accepted the recommendation of dismissal for anyone who did not speak up, and one hundred and sixty seven soldiers were slapped with dishonorable discharges. They would never again serve the government. The soldiers also did not receive a trial. President Roosevelt added that some of these soldiers were “Bloody Butchers” that should be “hung.”

A new investigation into the incident by Senator Joseph P. Foraker found that the bullets recovered did not come from any of the weapons issued to the 25th. The first attempt at reversing the dishonorable discharges failed because the trial process assumed guilty until proven innocent. The successful attempt came finally in 1971 when Augustus Hawkins, a Black Democratic Congressman, introduced a bill to declare the discharges honorable. After an investigation into the incident in 1972, President Nixon approved of honorable discharges, with no other compensation. The only remaining member of the 25th Infantry at Brownsville, Dorsie W. Willis, received $25,000 and medical treatment at the Veterans Administration hospital.

Theodore Roosevelt a Traitor

Theodore Roosevelt promised to recognize the gallantry of the soldiers who in more than one instance bailed out his “Rough Riders” in Cuba. Soldiers of the 9th and10th Cavalry had hoped that their efforts could be recognized. Roosevelt wrote about his experiences in Alone in Cubia, and had little to say of any Black accomplishments, yet alone the fact that the Black regiments were responsible for saving the Rough Riders at Las Guásimas and San Juan Hill. Anything the Black soldiers accomplished was due to White leadership, according to Roosevelt. Amidst this backstabbing, Roosevelt went so low as to claim that he encountered Black soldiers leaving the battlefield and had to force them at gunpoint to join the front lines. According to Presley Holliday, a former Sergeant in the 10th Cavalry, Roosevelt actually stopped four soldiers on their way to pick up ammunition from a supply point.

Written by David Omahen

See also:

The American Revolution to 1808
The War of 1812
The Civil War
The Indian Wars
The Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurgency
The Brownsville Incident and Teddy Roosevelt
World War One
The Spanish Civil War
World War Two
The Korean War
Conclusion and Bibliography