Brownsville Affair (1906)
The Brownsville Affair
On August 13, 1906, citizens of Brownsville, Texas alleged that African-American soldiers with the Twenty-fifth US Infantry at Fort Brown raided the city, resulting in property damages and the death of local bartender Frank Natus. As Garna Christian writes, "The Brownsville [Affair] occurred against a background of deteriorating Negro status: Texas in that same year ex- tended railroad segregation to streetcars, eliminated the black militia, and held the second all-white Democratic primary. The state witnessed over a hundred lynchings between 1900 and 1910, the third highest in the nation." Furthermore, hostility towards African Americans in the Valley had been escalating. In 1875 and 1899, violence erupted between black soldiers of the Ninth (9th) Cavalry and white officers stationed at Fort Ringgold and white residents of Rio Grande City. The occupation of the U.S. military on the border, especially by African American troops, angered Brownsville's white residents.
Hours before the alleged raid in 1906, a white woman reportedly had been harassed by a group of black soldiers from the 25th regiment, which led Major Charles Penrose to confine all soldiers to their posts that day. That evening shots rang out in the town and local witnesses claimed the responsible parties were a group of Black soldiers from Fort Brown.
Immediately after the shooting Maj. Penrose conducted a roll call of all soldiers and a weapons check--the record indicated that all men were present at their barracks that night and all their weapons were accounted for. A subsequent investigation was conducted by Maj. Augustus Blocksom whose research did not yield substantial evidence on who was responsible for the shooting. Yet, without any proof of evidence, President Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged 167 black troops of the 25th regiment. Six among them were Medal of Honor recipients.
The highest-ranking soldier to be dishonorably discharged was First Sergeant Mingo Sanders of the 25th US Infantry B Company. Sgt. Sanders was a distinguished career soldier who received combat experience in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, having served under Theodore Roosevelt's command. Sgt. Sanders was also a participant in the historic U.S. 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps on their experimental 1,900-mile journey.
With the help of feminist and civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell, Sgt. Sanders and Private Elmer Brown of the Twenty-fifth US Infantry were able to successfully reenlist into the military on December 12, 1906.
Despite widespread public criticism immediately following the unjustified conviction of 167 soldiers, serious reexamination of this incident did not occur until 66 years later after the publication of John D. Weaver’s, The Brownsville Raid, in 1970. In 1972 the U.S. Army reversed the conviction citing that the events following the Brownsville Affair were not committed at the hands of the 25th U.S. Infantry finally validating the innocence of the Buffalo Soliders in the official historical record.