Senior reporter Sig Christenson
of the San Antonio Express-News
has written a smart and vivid account
of the Houston Riots courts-martial, one hundred years later. (Today marks a century since 13 soldiers were hanged.) His article not only describes the mutiny that led to the courts, but also the significant legal fallout -- as well as the executions. Excerpt:
The riot and its aftermath rocked the Army, prompting one major reform almost immediately and a quiet reassessment of the use of black soldiers in a racist military and society that could not tolerate them as equals.
Under the Articles of War, a document going back to the Revolution, soldiers had no right to appeal in a time of war, but that was changed not long after the executions.
Infuriated over the hangings, then-acting Judge Advocate General Brig. Gen. Samuel T. Ansell in 1918 prohibited the execution of any death sentence before a review and determination of legality. A review board for all serious courts-martial soon became the Army’s first appellate structure. Congress later formalized it by statute and in so doing created the foundation for today’s Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
The article also points out, on the other hand:
“The noble experiment of incorporating black officers and men into the Army literally blew up in their faces,” John Manguso, retired director of the Fort Sam Houston Museum, wrote in a document used for a panel discussion years ago. “Despite competent and gallant service of black soldiers in the (First) World War, only the problems and difficulties were remembered.
“As a nation, we were to repeat many of the same mistakes in World War II. As the result of (Houston’s) night of violence, all Americans lost a great opportunity, and a quarter-century would pass before any further effort was made to allow black Americans to take their rightful place in the defense of the nation.”
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