Countdown to chaos
On July 28, 1917, more than 600 troops of the 3rd Battalion of the 24th Infantry arrived in Houston from Columbus, N.M., to guard the construction of Camp Logan.
When the United States declared war on Germany, two millitary installations were built in Harris County: Camp Logan and Ellington Field. According to the Handbook of Texas, the move was to take advantage of the climate and the newly opened Houston Ship Channel. Once Camp Logan was completed, the Illinois National Guard would train there.
Accompanying the black troops by train were eight officers.
"The officers, of course, are white men," a newspaper article said.
Initially, the soldiers were welcomed.
"We want the people of Houston to substitute as early as possible for the soldiers coming here the influences of the homes they left behind when called to arms," said William E. Hopkins, representative of the Fosdick national committee on training camp activities.
History shows things went downhill pretty quickly. On Aug. 23, 1917, racial tensions erupted into a riot that placed the city under martial law. The Handbook of Texas says the mutinous black soldiers killed fifteen whites, including four policemen, and seriously wounded twelve others, one of whom, a policeman, later died. Four black soldiers were also killed in the incident. Two were accidentally shot by their own men, one in camp and the other on San Felipe. The troops also killed Capt. Joseph Mattes of the Illinois National Guard when they mistakenly thought he was a policeman. Finally, a sergeant involved in the melee committed suicide.
During the next month, I'll post some articles that highlight the tensions between the soldiers and residents that led up to that day of chaos.