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The Brownville Affair of 1906: A Black History Nugget -- Part 2 of 2

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Richard O. Jones
As a result, of the Brownville raid blamed on the Black soldiers by racists’ town folk, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered 167 of the Black troops dishonorably discharged because of their “conspiracy of silence”. This dishonorable discharge prevented these 167 men from ever working in a military or civil service capacity.

Some of the Black soldiers had been in the U.S. Army for over twenty years, while others were extremely close to retirement with pension.

Even Booker T. Washington got involved, asking President Roosevelt to reconsider his decision in the affair. Roosevelt instead dismissed Washington’s plea and allowed his decision to stand.

From 1907-1908, a United States Senate committee investigated the Brownsville Affair, and reached the same decision as President Roosevelt. Blacks, and many whites across America were outraged at President Roosevelt and Congress. The Black community, which had largely supported President Roosevelt before (due to Roosevelt hosting Booker T.

Washington at a White House dinner, and Roosevelt’s occasional condemnation of lynching), began to turn against him. Even worse, news of the discharged soldiers was withheld until after the 1906 Congressional elections, so that the pro-Republican Black vote would not be affected.

In 1970, John D. Weaver (a white man) published The Brownsville Raid, which investigated the affair in depth. Mr. Weaver argued that the accused members of the 25th Regiment were in fact innocent. As a result of Mr. Weaver’s book, the U.S.  Army conducted a new investigation on the affair. In 1972, the Army found the accused members of the 25th Regiment innocent, and President Roosevelt’s order of 1906 was reversed.

The Nixon Administration overturned all of the accused soldier’s dishonorable discharges, but refused to grant their families the back pay in pensions. Still maintaining the Regiment’s innocence, Dorsie Willis, the last surviving veteran, received a meager $25,000 pension.

Email: richardojones1@verizon.net

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