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The Brownsville Raid of August 13-14, 1906, took place in Brownsville, Texas and began around midnight. Brownsville consisted only of about 6,000 people. The soldiers were confronted of racial slurs and discrimination from the moment they arrived. The alleged attack lasted about ten minutes. At eleven o'clock at night when taps sounded, the post was dark and still. The three noncommissioned officers in charge of quarters reported their companies present or accounted for. Two men from company C had not been tracked down by the patrols, Macklin, one of the commanding officers of the infantry, learned. Both men had been given twenty -four hour passes that morning and were presumed to have taken the ferry to Matamoras. The officer of the day wasn't worried about them. The attack was assumed to have been committed by soldiers from companies B, C and D of the black Twenty-fifth United States Infantry stationed at Fort Brown, which resulted in the largest summary dismissals in the annals of the United States Army. The official records lists two casualties- a young bartender, a police lieutenant wounded. The records were compiled buy white men who counted as casualties only other white men, not the one hundred and sixty-seven black soldiers who were administratively savaged by order of President Theodore Roosevelt on the basis of information he had received from a blundering military bureaucracy headed by his heir presumptive, William H. Taft (Weaver 1970). After fighting with distinction in the Indian Wars, the Spanish American Wars, and the Philippines the elite all volunteer 25th Infantry Regiment, made up black rank and file led by white officers, was broken into detachments and based all over the United States.
The regiment served garrison duty in Minnesota, Washington, Nebraska and California. In 1906 when Ft. Niobrara, Nebraska was closed companies B, C, and D of the 1st Battalion. 25th Infantry were reassigned to Ft Brown on the Mexican border near Brownsville, Texas. The deployment to Ft Brown was looked upon ominously. Texas had been a part of the Confederacy only a generation before and the last battle of the civil war was fought close near Ft Brown. It was even illegal at the time for members of the regular army, along with the insane and convicted felons, to vote in elections in the state. While on maneuvers with Texas military men near Ft Riley in 1903 the 25th nearly came to armed conflict over racial issues. The regimental commander, the governor of Texas, the congressional delegation from Texas, members of the war department and others, registered complaints over this move but were vetoed by secretary of war Taft.
The buffalo soldiers arrived in July 1906 to come face to face with the segregated south and open hostility. The troops were largely confined to their post and not allowed to mingle with the town's populace after a series of unpleasant encounters on Brownsville's streets. On the hot still long night of Aug 13, 1906 a number of shots rang out just outside of Ft Brown's parameter. The reported attack was that one of the black soldiers was walking in the ally way with hardly any lights. Supposedly the young woman was standing outside of her yard in the middle of the night by the fence and a young man came about the corner raped and beat her. This incident got the towns people irate due to the fact it was Major Charles Penrose, declared an early curfew for the following day to avoid any confrontations with any of the towns people. But then around midnight, when a brief shooting claimed the life of one of the bartenders named Frank Natus and destroyed the arm of police LT M.Y.Dominquez. Many of the townspeople claimed to have seen the soldiers running through the streets shouting, despite the darkness of the hour and points of considerable distance. (Waver 1970). The post was immediately called to arms and after an accounting with subalterns and non-commissioned officers Major Penrose, commander of the detachment, reported that all of his men were present and accounted for as was all of their arms and munitions.
Townspeople were near riot, rapidly declaring before dawn that rogue troops from the post had raided the town. The Army began an investigation and moved the men of the 25th from Ft Brown to the more accommodating Ft Reno in Oklahoma. . They were physically abused from even those well respected from businesses. Sets of civilian and military investigations presumed the guilt of the soldiers without identifying individual culprits. A citizen's committee cooperating with Penrose's own inquiry, successfully demanded the removal of the troops but failed to receive white replacements.
Maj. Augustus P. Hawkins, of the army's southwestern division, deemed the soldiers uncooperative and waged their dismissal if they refused to turn evidence (Gama1970). Even though the people of the town, including officers and sentry, heard shooting the soldiers denied all of it.
The black soldiers were discriminated against and beaten when they would go out to the local bars. A conspiracy began to emerge until the soldiers found someone to renew their innocence. A Texas Range, William Jesse McDonald, had then arrested the man on conspiracy. However, a Cameron county grand jury failed to return any indictments.
A "conspiracy of silence" was General Ernest A. Garlington charge conviction against the company until out of hand with no reliable eyewitnesses or physical evidence. Garlington asked the ones to turn themselves in and come forward if they were guilty but everyone admitted under oath they were not accountable for the incident (Eger 2007). Theodore Roosevelt discharged "without honor" all 167 enlisted men. This was immediate and meant a forfeiture of all rank, retirement, pay and privileges, and disqualifications from any federal job. All of the men had been volunteers for service and several had known nothing else their entire lives but being a soldier. Most were combat veterans.
In 1907 Penrose and Macklin were court-martialed and acquitted. The action of Roosevelt, who had served with black troops in the Spanish American War and conspicuously, appointed African American to office, shocked his black constituency and moved the controversy to the national stage (weaver1970).
Roosevelt once quoted, "there is not any more puzzling problem in this country than the problem of color." His views of color were always puzzling. He could write that "the only wise and honorable and Christian thing to do is to treat each black man and each white man strictly on his merits as a man." Roosevelt's opinion of blacks as a group were vague, a few of Roosevelt's incidents reflected a negative side for presidency such as inviting a black educator named Booker T. Washington to dinner, to promote "Social equality, "which all there people feared the results. But yet blacks still looked upon Roosevelt as a savior. With the Brownsville raid incident he offered "lens to admire". The president agreed with Garlington when no soldiers confessed, it was a "conspiracy of silence." An army investigation did find shell casings, which were claimed to have been from soldier's rifles. No one could link anyone to the incident-all was unreliable. Criticized as an "executive lynching" and a "despotic usurpation of power," the decision was widely unpopular among blacks and northern whites.
"Brownsville was an unforgettable shock." (Glasrud and Searles 2007) Roosevelt chafed at accusations that he dismissed the men because of their race and insisted his decision was based solely on his "convictions."
The soldiers found a white ally in Ohio Senator Joseph Foraker who managed to gather enough evidence of a flawed investigation to reopen the case in 1908 when he famously told the senate, "they ask no favors because they are Negroes, but only for justice because they are men." Penrose told the senate his men had nothing to do with it. Despite ample evidence of paid witnesses and biased investigators, a court of inquiry, consisting of five generals, concluded on April 6, 1910 that the soldiers were indeed guilty. Foraker kept the issue alive through speeches and writings over the next several years.
The Senate Military Affairs Committee, which included Foraker, conducted hearings while courts- martial cleared Penrose and Macklin of alleged negligence. The majority report, issued in march 1908, concurred with the official white house decision, while a minority of four republicans found the evidence inconclusive, yet another report submitted by Foraker asserted the soldiers innocence. It alleged contradictory submitting to pressure; the administration appointed a board of retired army officers to review applications for reenlistment. The count of military inquiry in 1910 approved only fourteen of the men. But eight were discharged was not affirmed were allowed to re-enlist in the Army at their former ranks. Seven of them accepted and promptly re-enlisted in the 25th at their former ranks with back pay. The other 159 soldiers were written off to an unjust fate and largely forgotten.
Tragically the Army learned nothing from this incident and in 1917 the 24th infantry, the other black infantry unit in the Army, rioted in Houston Texas after being attacked by local police. This left 16 whites killed by the soldiers and a court marshal hanging 19 black soldiers and discharging another 108 (Eger 2007). The decision closed the matter for more than sixty years. The Brownsville affair got a fresh airing in 1972. The army announced that the soldiers would finally be granted an honorable discharge, without back pay, which was announced by the Nixon administration. All had passed away of the 167 soldiers but one, Dorsie Willis. He did receive 25,000 pension in 1974 but he responded and told the reporters, "you can't pay for a lifetime."
Even though the soldiers were never exonerated, and by the time a handful were reinstalled Brownsville was of so little interest to whites two generations of youngsters, black and white have been reared of their massive assault by president on the civil rights of these group of black Americans. "They lived and died in the black mans limbo. Alive they were denied the equity of the white mans justice and dead the indication of his Jim Crow history" (Waver p278).
With Roosevelt, "Which is the real man who sat down to dinner with Washington or the one who ordered the last discharge of the soldiers? Historians would say both in the realism of this presidency. He was a man of strong conviction on many things but on question of race he spent a lifetime feeling this way" (Time 2006).
After the book was published IN 1970 by John Weaver profiling the incident the U.S. Congressman Augustus F. Hawkins led a campaign to reopen the investigation into the 25th at Brownsville. Roosevelt's orders were then reversed. The men's service records were amended to show that they were honorably discharged. As we already know Dorsie, the only one living at the time, received his pension. The twelve widows of the Brownsville Buffalo Soldiers were given $10,000 each. All were given an apology.
It may never be known what happened that night but everyone agrees that more than one grievance was performed.
Thus, ironically, the Brownsville story has come full circle. Neither of which suggest that the soldiers might have been framed. There is no mention of Foraker's defense of the battalion, and the reader is left with the impression that the men shot up the town after considerable provocation.
Even if there is no precise evidence, my personal opinion with all we and history has learned, is the innocence due to the equality and fairness of the men's lives and freedom they deserved. It was a man's waste for years of the freedom he lost due to that injustice of that incident knowing We, the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, should have provided the protection for these men and their freedom and loyalty to the Army and what they had contributed to us as a nation.