Thursday, August 24, 2017

Today -100: August 24, 1917: Of murderous riots and watermelon parties, or indeed watermelon riots and murderous parties

Headline of the Day (Houston Chronicle): “Murderous Riot Replaces Negro Watermelon Party.” Black soldiers at Camp Logan, Texas, get into a tussle with Houston police after the cops break up a craps game being played by some black youths and shoot at a couple of them, as was the custom. Passing soldiers object and are beaten and arrested, as is a black MP who goes to check on them. A good portion of the 24th Infantry, some of whom believe rumors that a white mob is coming for them, arm themselves, go off in search of cops and shoot randomly in the streets. By the end of the day, 20+ are dead, including 4 cops, but mostly innocent bystanders.

One frequent source of contention for negro soldiers, mostly from the North, who are stationed in Texas was their refusal to abide by Jim Crow rules in street cars, restaurants, brothels and the like, as well as disrespectful and violent treatment by the notoriously racist Houston PD (which did have 2 black officers out of 150; they were only permitted to arrest black people), which was anxious to prevent this lack of subordination to white supremacy spreading to black Houstonians.

Courts-martial will convict 95 soldiers, sentencing 24 to death (13 will be hanged, including the corporal who started the whole thing by brazenly being shot by Policeman Sparks) and 53 to life imprisonment (although all will be released by 1938), while 7 will be acquitted and 1 released on grounds of insanity.

German forces take Riga. Russian soldiers are simply refusing to fight at this point. Petrograd is now threatened.

With conscription soon to be enacted in Canada, authorities are getting a little concerned about all the gun purchases in Quebec, which remains fiercely opposed to the draft, as does Quebec PM Lomer Gouin.

The Texas House votes to impeach Gov. James Ferguson.

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  1. The Chronicle got that story somewhat wrong.

    In actuality the problems started the 24th Infantry's Pvt. Alonzo Edwards attempted to intervene in a policeman's arrest of a black woman in Houston. Edwards, who was a member of the all black 24th Infantry, was concerned due to the police's rough handling of the woman. The police then beat and arrested Edwards.

    Later in the day Cpl. Charles Baltimore, a military policeman of the 24th stationed at Camp Logan went into Houston to determine what was going on with Edwards and stopped and asked a Houston policeman. The policeman took offense to Baltimore's inquiries and then heated words were exchanged. The policeman then started beating Baltimore and ended up shooting him as Baltimore fled. Baltimore took refuge in an abandoned house and was then also arrested and beaten.

    At that point troops of the 24th became convinced that something was going on and started to arm themselves. Their white officers initially ignored warnings from Sgt. Vida Henry that the troops of Co. I were going to march on Houston. Sgt. Baltimore, released and in bruised and shot condition returned to Camp Logan and things looked like they'd die down, but then a rumor that a mob was coming turned that around and the officers, who had finally started to collect the arms, were helpless to stop Co. I from marching downtown. Cpl. Baltimore actually joined them.

    Baltimore was amongst those who were executed, adding insult to his injuries:

  2. The only thing I took from the Houston Chronicle was that ridiculous headline. The story, which you've described more coherently than I did, I took from the NYT (which did no first-hand reporting and to which, therefore, the motives of the black soldiers remained a mystery) and Garna Christian's book Black Soldiers in Jim Crow Texas, 1899-1917.