Hellraisers Journal: An Editorial From The Messenger: “The Hanging of the Negro Soldiers” on December 11, 1917

How can America hold up its hands
in hypocritical horror at foreign barbarism
while the red blood of the Negro
is clinging to those hands?
-Hubert H. Harrison


Hellraisers Journal, Wednesday January 9, 1918
“One law for the white man…and another for the black man.”

From The Messenger of January 1918:


Court Martial of 64 Members of 24th Infantry, Fort Sam Houston, ab Nov 1, 1917
Court Martial of 64 members of 24th Infantry at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio

The hanging of thirteen Negro soldiers for the shooting up in Houston, Texas, a few months ago marks the acme of national indiscretion, on the one hand, and the triumph of Southern race prejudice, on the other. THE MESSENGER is not prepared to pass upon the guilt or innocence of the colored men, but, for the sake of argument, we shall assume their guilt. We shall next proceed to compare the punishment of the Negro soldiers with other soldiers guilty of similar or greater offenses. And if we find that the punishment of the black soldiers has been harsher, sterner and more merciless than that meted out to the other races, we shall seek to find out what the cause of the difference was.

Briefly to compare. On the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of July in East St. Louis, white troops from Illinois in broad daylight, under the eyes of tens of thousands of people, shot, wounded and killed over one hundred Negroes without any reasonable or apparent provocation from the Negroes of East St. Louis. It was the most disgraceful and unabashed exhibition of mob violence ever known in the United States. Evidence against the soldiers was not circumstantial, but direct. It was also overwhelming and abundant. Yet in spite of the brazen, unmitigated contempt for the law, no white soldier was even apprehended or tried.

Shortly after that Negro troops taunted by abuses, insults and provoked by the worst race prejudice in the world-Southern race prejudice-were alleged to have shot up the town of Houston, Texas, killing a few people. The Negro soldiers were tried; the verdict was withheld from the public; they were denied the right of appeal, and in medieval fashion, were hustled to the scaffold.

What, we ask, is there to account for this difference between justice to white troops from Illinois and justice to Negro troops from Illinois? Both mutinied in time of war. Both killed citizens. The only answer would seem to be that there is one law for the white man in this country and another for the black man; that the Negro is called upon invariably to defend rights for others, but which he cannot enjoy; that bald, bare-faced race prejudice was the moving spirit of the execution of some of the bravest, most patriotic soldiers which the United States has ever had.

Court Martial of 64 Members of 24th Infantry at Fort Sam Houston-Detail

This execution, one of the worst in history, of men-most of them some of the bravest soldiers in history-is not calculated to stimulate the very low smoldering patriotism which is still left in Negroes.

We wish also to call the attention of this country to the bold misrepresentation of Negro leaders about the Negro’s patriotism. Every ninety out of a hundred Negroes felt before the execution that it was very questionable whether they had any country to fight for. Since that execution, with large and extensive contact, we have not found a Negro man or woman whose position is not either entirely passively against the country, or certainly indifferent to its appeals.

Be not deceived. The law itself is unimportant. The administration is what counts. Especially objectionable is all dark-lantern administration. To deny men the right of appeal, to execute before giving the public a chance to appeal for them-merely because it was known that every self-respecting Negro and large numbers of just, fair and truly patriotic whites would have flooded the White House with telegrams-is a piece of Star Chamber procedings and Inquisition reaction toward which no harking back can ever be tolerated. The men were denied a right of appeal granted to the vilest criminal.

THE MESSENGER wonders whether the (Mr. X) Colonel House, who publishes the “Harpoon,” a slanderously Negro baiting, race hating magazine in Houston, Texas, used his personal friendship with President Wilson to prevent his considering the appeal. And we wonder how the “me and justice” Teddy is thinking on the question. After all Negroes will do well to remember that Theodore Roosevelt started this thing and the South’s desire to “go him one better” is the logical consequence of the Brownsville starter.


[Photographs added.]

The following thirteen soldiers were hanged at Fort Houston, San Antonio, just before sunrise on December 11th of 1917:

Sergt. William C. Nesbitt
Corp. Larsen J. Brown
Corp. James Wheatley
Corp. Jesse Moore
Corp. Charles W. Baltimore
Private William Breckenridge
Private Thomas C. Hawkins
Private Carlos Snodgrass
Private Ira B. Davis
Private James Divine
Private Frank Johnson
Private Rosley W. Young
Private Pat MacWharter

From The New York Age of December 22, 1917:

"Scales of Justice" re Hangings 24th Infantry, NY Age, Dec 22, 1917



The Messenger
Editors: A. Philip Randolph & Chandler Owen
(New York, New York)
-January 1918
Editorial: “The Hanging of the Negro Soldiers”

Source for names of those hanged on Dec 11, 1917:
The New York Times
(New York, New York)
-Dec 12, 1917

Leaders in Houston Outbreak of August
Are Executed at San Antonio

Condemned Men March to Scaffold Singing Hymn
and Say Goodbye to Their Guards.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas, Dec. 11.– Thirteen negroes, soldiers of the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry, were hanged at dawn today for murders committed at Houston last August, when members of that regiment engaged in mutinous rioting in the city’s streets….

Bonfire Lights Up Scene.

The bonfire illumination for the hanging…But now one might tramp for hours over the brush-covered acres of the military reservation without finding either execution site or burial place…

Trial of 24th Infantry Soldiers, Fort Sam Houston, ab Nov 1, 1917
“Scales of Justice” re Hangings 24th Infantry, NY Age, Dec 22, 1917

See also:

Houston Riot of 1917

Hellraisers Journal, Monday July 9, 1917
East St. Louis, Illinois – “Making the World Safe for Democracy”
From The Voice, “A Newspaper for the New Negro,” Hubert H. Harrison: “The East St Louis Horror