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SAN ANTONIO – Charles Anderson slowly approached the altar at the Chapel of the Gift at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston and gazed at a centuries-old grainy photograph of 63 Black soldiers. He quickly discovered his distant cousin, Sgt. William C. Nesbit, and reached out to stroke the stoic expression of his loved one.
This photo shows Sergeant Nesbit and 62 other members of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry at a military trial for their alleged roles in a deadly 1917 Houston riot that left 19 dead. . Mr. Anderson’s cousin and 12 others were later found guilty and hanged on the gallows near Salado Creek, which runs through San Antonio, in what military officials now call one of the most unjust military trials. in national history.
Earlier this week, Mr. Anderson and two other descendants of executed soldiers took a somber tour of where their loved ones spent their final hours. As Mr. Anderson entered the chapel, which was used as a courtroom to hold all 63 defendants, he shook his head and tried to imagine how his relatives must have felt in that moment.
Sergeant Nesbit of the 24th All-Black Infantry Regiment, was assigned to guard the construction of a training camp for white soldiers in Houston. The majority of the white population greeted them with symbols of race and physical violence. John A. Haymond, a military historian who led the tour, said tensions broke out during a deadly riot on August 23, 1917. The uprising lasted more than two hours and robbed took the lives of 19 people – 15 policemen, white soldiers and civilians, and 4 black soldiers, according to historical records.
Mr. Anderson said: “I’m standing where he’s sitting here. “He must have been very scared. Some of them had hope until the last minute. ”
There was a measure of hope Tuesday when military officials and members of the Buffalo Soldiers, a fraternity of black soldiers, joined the descendants of those who had fallen in a solemn ceremony. to remember their sacrifices. Officials announced a marker at the cemetery grounds, steps from where soldiers were buried. Titled “Legacy of Houstonians,” it included a rare photograph of the military trial and a nasty headline from the San Antonio Express that read “13 Negroes executed.”
The trial was later criticized for stripping the soldiers of due process. Their defense was conducted by a single officer with some legal experience but not an attorney, and they are denied any opportunity to appeal their convictions. In total, there were three trials, 110 convictions and 19 executions.
The Pentagon is in the process of reviewing the clemency request. Gabe Camarillo, Minister in charge of the military, said:
Today, every soldier has the right to appeal the sentence, and every execution is subject to review by the sitting US president, Camarillo said.
In 1937, soldiers’ bodies were moved from unnamed graves to the grounds of Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
“Today, they will finally begin to receive a small piece of the dignity they long deserved,” Donald Remy, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs, said of the memorial and signage.
However, even though it has been more than 100 years, the pain is still intact for the surviving relatives of those young soldiers.
As the group on a tour of the building where the soldiers were held before their execution, Angela Holder, the granddaughter of Corporal Jesse Moore, took a deep breath and ran a hand through the red bricks, the door. windows and doors of the structure. Now serves as military office.
“They were brought in from here,” Mrs. Holder told Jason Holt, the grandson of another fallen soldier. “They are very young. They didn’t get the chance to live their lives.”
Miss Holder bit her lip to keep from crying.
Inside this exposed brick building, Mr. Holt’s uncle, Pvt. Thomas Hawkins, wrote one last letter to his parents on December 11, 1917, hours before his death.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Holt read excerpts from the letter at the event. “I was sentenced to hang for the trouble that happened in Houston,” Mr. Holt read aloud, sometimes pausing to regain his composure. “Even though I did not commit the crime that I accused Mother of, God willing I must go now and this way.”
Mr. Haymond, the military historian who conducted the tour, then led family members to the site where the men were executed, not far from where the base’s primary school is today. He then took them to an area away from Salado Creek, where the previous men were buried, carrying not their dog tags, but each with an empty soft drink bottle with his name on it.
Mr. Holt walked past the brush area and looked around at the dry trees. “This doesn’t look big enough for a 13 year old,” he mostly told himself.
Miss Holder sighed and looked at the field incredulously. “Oh my God,” she whispered. “This is not the way to bury a human.”
She stepped out onto the main street and took one last glance. Coming here, she said, was painful, but necessary.
“I’m so glad this has been announced now,” she said, “so this doesn’t happen again.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/26/us/houston-riot-black-soldiers.html A deadly riot, and then 3 trials, 110 convictions, and 19 executions