Black soldiers executed after 1917 Houston riot honored with new headstones

The Department of Veterans Affairs Thursday honored 17 Black soldiers unfairly tried and executed after the 1917 Houston riots. All 110 Black soldiers belonging to the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry (pictured) were cleared of wrongdoing by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. Photo courtesy of the VA

Feb. 22 (UPI) -- In dedicating new headstones for 17 Black World War I soldiers executed after Houston riots in 1917, the Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday it was righting a wrong of the past.

A 2023 Army review of the soldiers' cases found "these soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials."

In San Antonio on Thursday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, a memorial ceremony added new headstones for the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, fully honoring their service.

An updated interpretive sign sharing their story is included with the new headstones.

"Today, we right the wrongs of the past and honor the service of these soldiers -- who served our country with honor," said VA Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Matthew Quinn. "We are proud to dedicate new engraved headstones that include these Army soldiers' ranks, regimental unit, and home states, demonstrating our full commitment to helping correct the injustice of that era."

The 17 soldiers honored Thursday were among those executed after the courts martial of 110 Black soldiers charged with mutiny and murder in the 1917 Houston riots.

The records of all 110 soldiers were cleared and they were given posthumous honorable discharges in November 2023.

"After a thorough review, the [Army Board for Correction of Military Records] has found that these soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials," Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said in a statement.

The soldiers had been subjected to racial slurs in a hostile Jim Crow Houston in 1917 that included insults and arrests from white police and soldiers.

According to an account in Smithsonian magazine, police assaulted a Black woman and arrested a soldier who tried to intervene. The Black soldiers believed a white mob was coming for them, so they seized weapons and marched into Houston.

The violence that ensured killed white police officers, soldiers and civilians, as well as four Black soldiers.