An Open Letter to President Obama

Bob Diamond

On occasion, you have made positive reference to words from Progressive Republican President Teddy Roosevelt. Kindly consider posthumously correcting Teddy’s biggest blunder in his otherwise outstanding presidential career, by your revoking his order concerning the 25th Infantry and granting an honorable discharge, with survivorship benefits, to the 160 Negro soldiers.

On August 16, 1906 Teddy was advised by the Mayor of Brownsville Texas that some 20-30 Negro soldiers had earlier left the Garrison, fired rifles in town, killing a resident. Roosevelt ordered a report. The 25th Infantry, some 160 Negro soldiers, had arrived in Brownsville weeks earlier and” local racial tensions rose.” Commanding Officer Penrose restricted all Negro soldiers to quarters. Late one evening, “the men were aroused by the sound of rifle shots fired from outside the post.” Penrose immediately ordered a roll call with arms. All soldiers were accounted for; their rifles found to be clean. There were no credible eyewitnesses to the shooting. The Mayor presented empty cartridge shells found in the local streets.

Penrose acknowledged that the discharged shells were identical to those supplied to the Negro soldiers. All Negro soldiers professed innocence of any crime. Inspector General Blocksom concluded that “it must have been the Negro soldiers and others must have known of the plan.” The report was sent to Roosevelt.

Believing it was a “conspiracy of silence,” Roosevelt ordered the entire Negro company dishonorably discharged, including six Medal of Honor winners. The men forfeited all pension and military rights. Editorial comment was severe against Roosevelt. Senator Joseph Foraker, a Civil War veteran, after demanding an investigation, declared that the evidence against the Negro soldiers was clearly insufficient for any finding of guilt. The expert proof established “that the spent shells were used by the Negro troops at their prior post for target practice, saved by the government and made available to the public at Brownsville.” Foraker concluded that the “Negro troops had nothing to do with the shooting, that local residents perpetrated the crime and blamed it on the Negro soldiers.” It is revealing that in Teddy’s autobiography, the Brownsville incident was strangely omitted.

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