Monday, December 6, 2010

“The Brownsville Affair”

What can I say, I am a bit of a history buff… It is an interesting story though..

The port of Brownsville was an important area in the civil War. It was used by the Confederacy to smuggle goods (mainly cotton) into Mexico and then to Europe, bypassing Union blockades. In 1863 Union forces landed at nearby Port Isabel and marched to Brownsville to capture the city and fort, ending the smuggling. In early 1865 the Confederate Army recaptured the city. After the 1865 surrender of the Confederacy Fort Brown was manned by an all black Regiment. Feelings remained very tense between the black soldiers and the citizens of Brownsville.

On August 13, 1906 there was a shooting in downtown Brownsville, killing a merchant and wounding a policeman. Brownsville citizens quickly accused the black soldiers of Fort Brown of the killing. Racial tensions were very high at the time. The army ordered the soldiers to tell what the knew of the shooting and to hand over those responsible but all of the soldiers, including their white officers maintained they knew nothing. “Evidence”. consisting of several spent army cartridge casings which could have been picked up anywhere, were presented to the Texas Rangers (who had taken over the “investigation”) by the mayor of Brownsville. President Roosevelt came under pressure to do something and responded to this pressure by dishonorably discharging all 167 black soldiers of the 25th Regiment, accusing them of a “conspiracy of silence”. Some of these soldiers had over twenty years service and would otherwise be entitled to a pension. These soldiers were not allowed a hearing or given a chance to face their accusers as guaranteed by the US Constitution. To top it off, news of the dishonorable discharge was suppressed until after the 1906 Congressional Elections so that the pro-Republican black vote (Roosevelt occasionally condemned lynching) would not be affected.

In 1970 a book by John D. Weaver was published investigating the incident in depth and presented evidence that the soldiers were innocent. This sparked another investigation by the US Army who in 1972 finally declared the soldiers of the 25th Regiment innocent of all charges. President Roosevelt's order was reversed. The Nixon Administration overturned all 167 convictions but stopped short of awarding back pay and pensions to the families of the soldiers. Dorsie Willis, the only surviving black soldier was awarded a meager $25,000.


  1. You need to slow down. You're having way too much fun in such a short time. There won't be anything left for us to see! Have fun. Hi Norma!

  2. Thanks for the history Mr. Croft. Feel free to post your Brownsville and RGV articles on my Facebook page Brownsville Living.