1907

On August 13, 1906, shots were fired around Fort Brown, a black military base in Brownsville, Texas. President Roosevelt immediately dishonorably discharged the soldiers in, Companies A, B, C, and D of the 25th Infantry. Later President Roosevelt stationed all black troops in the military in the Philippines far from the soldiers’ home. Throughout 1907, as important government and military figures argued for the innocence of the discharged soldiers. The Planet tried to influence the outcome of the investigation by shaping the public opinion.

President Roosevelt received the preponderance of attention during the ordeal of the Brownsville Affair. Roosevelt met with locals in Brownsville after a bartender had been killed on the night of the Affair by gunfire and a policeman had been grazed by a bullet. With knowledge only based upon the word of locals “Roosevelt dishonorably discharged all the soldiers in the twenty-fifth Infantry.” Immediately more controversy stirred up. By not holding a proper trial for the discharged soldiers, Roosevelt acted unjustly. A discharge of any military member requires a proper court martial, and Roosevelt did not grant the soldiers in the 25th Infantry this right. Many troops lost the only job they had in their lives and did not have the necessary skills for other work. Roosevelt’s decision left many black people disgruntled, especially because a politician in the “party of Lincoln” had harmed black people. African Americans felt betrayed and black support for President Roosevelt suffered drastically. Roosevelt’s ruling on the Affair led the Planet to write in disgust about his actions and told blacks to longer support the President.

Promptly after Roosevelt’s decision to discharge the black soldiers, both black and white people spoke out against his actions. The New England Suffrage League wrote a bill that they gave to Representative Roberts of Massachusetts to propose in Congress. By the time the bill had been brought up in Congress information circulated that the only troops suspected to have been involved in the Affair were troops in Company A. Roberts’ bill was viewed as “more modest than other bills while it only motioned for the troops in Companies B, C, and D’s eligibility for reenlistment into the army, naval forces and the right for civil employment”. Roberts’ bill was deemed more moderate while only the soldiers believed to be innocent could be eligible for reenlistment.  Despite the power of its arguments, the strong backing for the President caused many Republicans to vote against the bill out of loyalty to their president and party. The bill received support from the Planet, those writing were infuriated that congress shot down a bill viewed as satisfactory to all parties.

Although the discharged troops did not receive a court martial, an investigation of the Affair took place in hopes of proving the soldier’s innocence. High-ranking military members looked at evidence to see if the shooting heard on the night of the Affair came from troops in the 25th Infantry. Investigators found bullet shells outside the barracks the morning after the Affair, but no soldier confessed to shooting guns. Crixwell’s Saloon, the bar where the bartender had been shot and killed, played a critical role. Investigator Lieutenant Leckle “traced the path of the bullets from the barracks to the bar, and concluded that the soldiers could not have shot the bullets which hit Crixwell’s saloon”. Leckle’s analysis helped defend the soldiers’ claim that they did not fire guns of the night of the Affair. The investigation did not yet have definitive proof that the bullets in the saloon did not come from a military weapon. Leckle’s investigation backed the soldiers’ claim but, Leckle could not prove who shot the bullets at the saloon, leaving all the soldiers still guilty in the eyes of the government. John Mitchell and others who worked for the Planet pledged full support for the investigation, Leckle’s efforts were appreciated by the newspaper because the evidence could help prove the soldiers’ innocence.

Major Penrose used the evidence in Lieutenant Leckle’s investigation when cross- examined to defend the discharged soldiers. Major Penrose, white, was part of the 25th Infantry but, had his charges acquitted on the same court martial that had the Infantry discharged. Penrose used Leckle’s analysis to argue that “the soldiers of the twenty-fifth Infantry were not guilty, based off of Leckle’s analysis”. Major Penrose had the respect of President Roosevelt, and viewed as a respectable source. Penrose’s claim about the troops innocence should carry lots of weight in determining the soldiers’ innocence for Roosevelt. This led the Planet to write highly about Major Penrose and described the importance of having a powerful white ally in an investigation believed to not be biased while the soldiers were black. Unfortunately, like Leckle, Penrose could not prove who shot the bullets, rather he stated an evidence-based belief that the soldiers in the 25th Infantry did not fire shots into Brownsville. 

Later in the investigation a discharged soldier made the claim that soldiers in the 25th Infantry participated in the riots that took place on the night of the Affair The soldier told a reporter, “several soldiers, not from every Company in the twenty-fifth Infantry, went into town only after a white townsperson injured a fellow soldier”. The soldier’s statement was a last attempt to become eligible for reenlistment. With hopes that he would create sympathy for the soldiers while they were provoked to riot, rather than they started the riots. The soldier did not realize his admittance to taking part in the riot hurt his cause since, it proved that the soldiers did just that, rioted in Brownsville on the night of the Affair. The Planet did not cover this in depth knowing his action hurt the discharged soldier’s chances to get reenlistment. The Planet made sure to highlight that the black soldier had good intent in his statement.

After hearing many witnesses discuss what they saw or describe what they believed happened, the politicians investigating the Affair began to form their own opinions. Senator Foraker, a member of the Senate Committee for Military Affairs, had a significant impact on the investigation. Foraker stated that “many soldiers were unjustly treated while there was no way over 150 soldiers were involved in the riot”. Foraker used a logical reasoning in determining his stance on the Affair. The black community finally found a voice, in Foraker. He was a white politician defending the rights of blacks at a time where blacks thought they had no allies inside of the federal government. His stance naturally gained lots of support from black people, since he was a prominent political figure standing for the justice of the discharged soldiers. The Planet pushed for blacks to support Foraker. Foraker made a bold statement by being the first major Republican to speak out against Roosevelt’s decision to discharge the soldiers. Naturally, Roosevelt and Foraker became political foes. Foraker’s stance on the Brownsville Affair led to the Planet giving complete support for Foraker throughout the entire year politically and for his presidential nomination.

Later in the year, the Senate Committee for Military Affairs had a more intense investigation take place. They ordered a metallurgist to test the material makeup of the bullets found in various buildings in Brownsville. “The six bullets tested contained antimony, an element which was not used in military bullets”. The analysis was a success in backing the discharged soldiers claim, that they did not fire shots into Brownsville. The Committee had two pieces of evidence going against one another, they knew the soldiers did not fire the bullets into Brownsville also, the soldiers took place in the riots on the night of the Affair. These pieces of information left the committee with a difficult decision to make. The Planet pushed for the Senate Committee to let the discharged soldiers reenlist into the military. Once the Committee announced Roosevelt’s actions would not be overturned, the Planet condemned the decision and those who supported it in its articles.

The featured event in the year 1907 centered around the Brownsville Affair. Powerful leaders of the time such as President Theodore Roosevelt, Senator Foraker, and Lieutenant Leckle weighed in on the popular issue. The Planet informed its readers of the Affair and any updates that happened throughout the year, giving blacks a voice to defend those who were unjustly punished. The event left many politicians and members of the military trying to revert Roosevelt’s initial action, and such efforts helped those defending the discharged troops gain support from blacks. The black community felt betrayed by President Roosevelt. African Americans fervently supported the Republican Party since the years of Lincoln and now the leader of the Party unjustly punished hundreds of black soldiers. 

Benton Camper