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Black infantrymen allegedly attack Brownsville citizens

August
13
1906

On this day in 1906, black soldiers of the Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry allegedly attacked citizens of Brownsville. The event resulted in the largest summary dismissals in the history of the United States Army. The soldiers, newly arrived at Fort Brown from the Philippines and Nebraska, confronted racial discrimination from some businesses and suffered physical abuse from some federal customs collectors. A reported attack on a white woman during the night of August 12 so enraged the citizens that Maj. Charles W. Penrose, after consultation with Mayor Frederick Combe, declared an early curfew. Just after midnight on the thirteenth, a bartender was fatally shot and a police lieutenant was wounded. Various citizens claimed to have seen soldiers running through the streets shooting, even though it was dark. Several civilian and military investigations presumed the guilt of the soldiers without identifying individual culprits. When suspects were not forthcoming, the army inspector general charged a "conspiracy of silence." On November 5 President Theodore Roosevelt discharged "without honor" all 167 enlisted men garrisoned at Fort Brown. This action fueled political and "due process" arguments for more than sixty years. In 1972 the Nixon administration awarded honorable discharges, without back pay, to the soldiers involved. The only surviving veteran, Dorsie Willis, received a $25,000 settlement.

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