That Summer When Buffalo Soldiers Marched Against Police Brutality in Houston
In 1917, 156 soldiers of the all-Black 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment rose against the brutal treatment of Black people by Houston police
Often referred to in history as a “riot” and a “mutiny,” the actions of more than 150 Black soldiers in 1917 serve as a reminder of just how deep police brutality against Black Americans is rooted in U.S. history. While the story of the Black soldiers rebelling against Houston police occurred just after the United States declared war in World War I and during the Jim Crow era, the actions by local cops and members of the community leading up to the uprising speak to many of the same issues we still have today. The soldiers were provoked into an encounter that would demonize them as insolent in the eyes of White people.
Shortly after the declaration of war, the United States began construction on two military facilities in the Houston area, Camp Logan (now Memorial Park) and Ellington Field. The all-Black 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment was deployed from Columbus, New Mexico, to guard the construction site of Camp Logan in Harris County, Texas (just outside of Houston at the time). Accompanied by seven White commissioned officers, the regiment traveled to Houston by train.
Immediately upon arrival in the heavily segregated city of Houston, the sight of armed Black men wearing uniforms angered White residents. The soldiers encountered racial slurs from the locals, including the construction workers they were protecting — who also demanded separate drinking fountains. Streetcar conductors demanded that the Black soldiers sit in the back of the trolleys. Troops were also incensed by “Whites only” signs all over the city.¹
I was frequently told that Negroes in uniform were inevitably “insolent” and that members of the military police in particular were frequently “insolent” to the white police of Houston. — Gruening (1917)
Most of the Black soldiers, who had honorably served in operations overseas, had incursions that historians refer to as “clashes” with locals who used the n-word — to which soldiers…