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We're discussing the Brownsville raid a factual account of a of a rather or in fact rather an extremely unpleasant incident that happened in one thousand OCE six. The book is published by Norton. It's written by John D Weaver and we'll be back with Mr. Weber in just a moment. This is book B. Each week introducing you to leading authors and critics this program is made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. Your host is Robert Crumb a daily columnist for The Chicago Tribune and a contributing editor of book world the Sunday Literary Supplement of the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post. John you and your subtitle call us a black drivers affair. How did you happen across it and what impelled you to write a book on my father was that a court reporter and all my life I've heard my mother and my father talk about that took the Browns Well they took when they were first married and I never paid much attention to it until long after my father's death about two three
years ago. I asked whether one day what took what took you to Brownsville I forgot. And she said what you said some Negro soldiers shot up the town and Teddy Roosevelt kicked him out of the army I said where did that go down to report the trial and she said well they didn't have any trial. That's more that you know not even the president can go around kicking men out of the army there must have been a trial of some sort that Teddy Roosevelt did it. So when I got back home to California I went to UCLA library found the official records the case of my father reported a court of inquiry and mother was right my mother was right and I got obsessed and with this with this case. Fascinating what you might just briefly give the outline of it because of course as we should have been 1000 S. Brownsville Texas. Well what what. Got me obsessed was I could see a movie this book was could be written on two levels as a mystery story. And then as an extraordinary very significant instant in the development of black power but on the mystery level some black soldiers are stationed at Fort Brown Texas one of my 70 ordered hundred and seventy three companies of
the 1st Battalion 25th Infantry. They have been in the town two weeks have been some minor incidents but nothing serious on Saturday night payday. The mayor of the town tells one of the five white officers the best disciplined troops he's ever had in the town the one man arrested for drunkenness on payday would set a new record in Texas. And Monday night Sunday night a white woman says there was a rape attempt made by a man a black man in army uniform Monday night at midnight. Shots ring out as a 10 minute shooting spree. One man is killed another wounded. The Negro's wake up. Assume the white people in the town early shots were in the vicinity of the garrison there right near you. The soldiers awaken they hear the shots right on the border that separates the garrison from the town. The soldiers assume the white people are shooting up the town the white people assume the soldiers have jumped the wall and are shooting up the town because they resent these incidents and also because they were not permitted to drink in the white saloons.
So this is the mystery who did the shooting. The mysteries existed for 60 years and it has gotten. It's obscured even more by the way it is appeared in history books and biographies and reference books because probably no one ever went back and looked at those records. And so that they have been rewriting each other's material and gets further and further from reality as time goes on. Well your theory is that it was in the town. Yes the the thing that as I got into the case when I first started working on it my idea was I assumed as everyone else did that the Negro soldiers were guilty and I simply wanted to document the provocations of what causes this violence. As I got into it I realized my goodness these men had no motive whatsoever. The money was all on the town's side of that Garrison wall. And this is the element that I was surprised when I checked reference books
and everybody mentions are almost in every instance they would mention the fact that the Negro soldiers shot up the town because they were mistreated. They did not mention the rape story which put the real motive for violence on the town side. It was a rather. Shaky rape story anyway she finally said to her shoulder grabbed her and pushed her down and then went away. That's right granted they were not really literally right no no none none whatsoever and the woman was never called to testify at all. And nor was the doctor who examined her afterwards. It was just accepted that that there was indeed this this rape attempt. One of the soldiers who knew who looked into the case said that probably what happened and seeing what a some what some soldier may have made some remark possibly with some provocation from the woman and that this may have touched. But anyway this was the trigger.
But Roosevelt immediately reacted by threatening to discharge the whole hundred seventy without honor as they called it unless they revealed what they knew and they didn't know anything at least that supposition is they couldn't. Well the next morning after the shooting every one of the soldiers signed an affidavit that he knew nothing about this incident but some empty shells were brought to the fort and these shells were fired by 900 for a spring for your rifle this was a new weapon at that time. Only the Army had this gun so that obviously those shells were fired by soldiers now whether they were fired in Brownsville or not. That's where the mystery comes in because when the Major who is commanding the battalion saw those shells he said My goodness our men did it. On the basis of this physical evidence yes it takes a man to be guilty. Word He notifies the War Department the incident has happened in the War Department wires back. Can you restrain your man from further violence the words further violence immediately. But the
War Department had convicted the men. Now having made its decision the War Department then brought all of its massive bureaucratic Majesty to bear to prove that these men were indeed guilty and this is where they run into trouble because those shells were sent to an army arsenal and what they are still tests reveal were that all the shells were fired by four rifles to the exclusion of every other rifle on earth. They gave the serial numbers of the four rifles but one rifle of the four belong to Sergeant Blaney and Sergeant Blaney never went to Texas Sergeant bringing his rifle on the night of this shooting was in a locked box in a locked store room in that rifle was covered with cosmoline and that rifle was NOT fired in Brownsville Texas that night but shells seven cells from Sergeant Laney's rifle were found in the streets next morning when the kids were collecting the empty cartridges that was the point. This company had come the company had come to Texas with a box an old busted Foot Locker filled with empty cartridges and the kids in town were collecting them selling
them to townspeople as souvenirs. Well the only actual evidence of a rifle being fired by any of the troops. The sentry admitted he fired one shot after the firing started fired one of the aired and then he fired three and three shots three shots and warning signs and there was the post scavenger who was present who saw him fired these shots and these were the only shots that at that the soldiers admitted fired or that anyone has ever established all the soldiers were accounted for when they had them fall in. Oh yes. The only film missing was I want to overslept He says one officer overslept. Yes and but every man every rifle was accounted for there was a very rigid rifle inspection at dawn. And meanwhile within half an hour after the shooting within 10 or 15 minutes an armada that formed in the center of town this was a heavily armed deer deer hunting community. And so no
rifles in Telegraph ever inspected. Yeah well of course as the book points out there was a. Well-known history of an high Negro history in the town and a lot of talk when they knew the soldiers were coming in ahead of time but they were going to do to them if they came. Then there was a man who was pushed into the water that was the one who was pistol whipped by a fellow for apparently nothing it was the drugs to refuse to sell medicine to the captain's cook or orderly or something so that the time was extremely hostile from the start. Exactly and the town had a kind of prejudice that tells me that the minute you open the records he's telling people come first thing up because he has hundreds of thousands of pages of testimony and the characters come alive one all kept in the bank or in the town. Man of no presence whatsoever except when he was asked about his relations with the black members of committees the ways we get along fine with the niggers down there it's just fine he said. Nor them all he said Could you name one. What if I thought about it I probably could he couldn't name one of these black members of that community. They were faceless anonymous people they
white customs officer is asked. He said you have a police force in bronze and this is a man to pistol whip remember the knitters and Mr. Tate said oh yes we have a police force and the question then was asked Is it a good police force he said I don't know they're Mexican. You know the mayor was nice so the mayor here was Mayor nice. He was pretty fair he went on ordering people to put away their guns and to quit shooting and to cool it and said After all even if some of the soldiers were guilty we must find the rest of them guilty but then Roosevelt and William Howard Taft who essentially is a war ordered these men all discharged. Once the War Department made its decision in that went with that one phrase in that telegram from then on wheels were set in motion that had enormous political and social ramifications. The War Department having taken this action then they have determined they must prove the soldiers guilty. They send an inspector general two down to interview the soldiers. He's a southerner. He goes convince the
soldiers were guilty he never made any effort whatsoever to clear the soldiers to see if anyone else might have done it. Later he was asked by that before a Senate Military Affairs Committee he was asked. What is your opinion of the rest of Negroes. He said well he said I would believe them sometimes. They said What would you believe them. On the subject of whether it's what he said I'm not sure he said if it was to their own interest they would they would lie. I want to also say he wouldn't leave them against a white man. Oh yes yes yes. And so this was the man who was to be the investigator. He comes back. He would deliver to these soldiers an ultimatum from the White House and Teddy Roosevelt said either these men produce the culprits or every one of them would be discharged from the Army. Right administrative discharge was is this started without honor. Now the men said but we don't know anything about it. And they the ultimatum came the time limit came in when the men were indeed discharged and even arrested some for
a while and put them under guard at least 12 12 were 12 were held. In Texas under arrest because these were 12 men and if the soldiers were guilty these were men that would have had to know about it the men who had the keys of the rifle rack the sentry who fired the warning shots the the property of the guard. These men would have had to know about it. They were arrested simply because if indeed the men were guilty they must have been accessories. But on the other hand if there was no proof that rendition there were no accessories arrested anywhere they were put that they do cut nightmare Kafka's situation when the ultimatum expired 24 hours a procedure started and Roosevelt signed the dismissal order. And this is all interesting detail he signed it and it was on his desk the day before the 906 or election but he was worried about the black vote taking in Cincinnati where his son in law was up for re-election. Alice along with her husband and
he had a very large black constituency that Longworth did and so Roosevelt held the order up until after the voters had gotten home from the polls and then then he released it and that blacks were outraged. Things haven't changed and they have a not a bit not a bit. And this was a set off in national. Just a burst of outrage all over the all over the country and same phrases that are used today were used then Black Power white devils. All of this was used and in the one thousand eight hundred eight campaign when I have to have carried out this order. Roosevelt ran for president. More blacks voted against Taft than had ever voted against a Republican candidate for president before it was beginning of black power. Well among the hundred seventy fire they had fought in the Philippines many of them and and there were a lot of decorated soldiers and very good soldiers in that hundred seventy.
It's one of the crack regiments wasn't it crack at first rate. As a matter of fact this twenty fifth Infantry Regiment was the first outfit called up for service in in this Bunny's American war. The very men the very outfit that Roosevelt destroyed is the outfit then with him on his flank at San Juan Hill. And this is one of the things that that shocked me so much in getting into the material. Every schoolchild black and white knows that Teddy Roosevelt did two things he charged up San Juan Hill and he invited Booker T Washington to dinner but what they don't know is Roosevelt's treatment of these black soldiers that it protected his flank at San Juan Hill and the fact that Roosevelt after he invited Mr. Marston to dinner and there was a Southern press reacted so violently he said I will dine with whomever I please but Rose I was in the White House seven more years and he never broke bread with another black. And of course Booker T Washington helped him as much as he could during this mess to very very much so there was there was a confrontation between Booker T Washington and do boys in the eight thousand nine hundred
eight campaign that is fascinating because you can see the beginnings of all of our modern problems and come face and write their wives and was you know we must go with Roosevelt and Taft because they've been so good to us. And the boy said no we must. The Republicans are taking us for granted too long. We must go with the Democrats because eventually our salvation is with the party that will give us jobs not the party that gives us a token internal revenue collector in New York earlier it wasn't Bryan the opposition candidate Mitt Romney wasn't he was a racist also. Of course he was. So there not much choice. No the choice was a cruel one. But what the boys predicted was that eventually you know. Eventually the Democrats would be the hope now of course for one another was a very good solid conservative type man who fought Roosevelt tooth and nail center Joseph Foraker from Ohio who tried to get this redress this injury this wrong. This is the really of this case and this is an interesting phenomenon and again it's something that should be in textbooks and unfortunately isn't
will be. Farquhar was a very conservative very wealthy senator getting on in years he had a nice mansion in Washington and suddenly he becomes interested in this case. And it was a matter of law with him. He was a great constitutional lawyer and this was wrong it was a matter of honor with him exactly because if you if you're going to use his great talent for Standard Oil He must also use it for these anonymous black soldiers even though he begins to realize it means his downfall. And Roosevelt brought about his downfall because it was a tell about his wife hearing him reading the stuff and talking to himself. She would hear him in the study who had papers here. But this is truly sad but that isn't so and so he could see the contradictions in the lie he was muttering to and shuttering to himself and the you know when I went to Cincinnati Ohio. To consult the fark of papers at the Cincinnati Historical Society and hear all these boxes of these dusty box of the dead man's paper is an I got them out and you could feel it but you could feel a presence there that this job must be finished
someone must do this. Because he died in disgrace this honor and the soldiers the case was dropped. Eventually if you were reinstated in 1910 but for most of them it meant the loss of pension a loss of honor probably loss of continual loss of employment. Exactly one of them was for example as a first sergeant mingles sender's who had was 51 years old had spent 26 years in Company B 25th infantry had in his outfit shared their food with he will share his hard tack with rope with Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in Cuba and teach him. Maybe it wasn't but anyway bingos Sanders not only was kicked out but when a face saving court of inquiry was set up early in the Taft administration simply did try to bury this issue. Roosevelt just before he left the White House had become really no longer quite rational on the subject of Brownsville and Roosevelt wrote a letter saying that an English sentence was the most vicious criminal of them all.
This was the man he had most cruelly harmed and so therefore in Roosevelt's mind he must be the blackest of the villains you know and there was nobody for Sanders to throw away. He was within two years of retirement in street for Spanish sergeant. All the white officers agreed although quite general one of the black officers in those days over its happens. But no if white general came out of retirement to plead for Ming goes on as if he was what he had never in his career he seen a finer for his side. And but the one thing that the government bureaucracy is wonderful the one thing that the the men didn't lose. They lost their retirement benefits on but they they retain the right to be buried in a government grave. Well actually come from this as well Foraker of course and his wife. And this sounded very much like the army spying on people today. Mrs Forrester said our you know our mail is opened.
People are hanging around outside spying on the house and it was an Army surveillance team set up on Forster who they hired to gumshoes to go down to Georgia all those funny people and these are clowns but horrible horrifying thought. And they took one poor young negro and they tried to focus all the burden of guilt on him. Boyd Conyers and they they tried everything they could they tried to get him live with Christie with bribe with promises they funded they told him all right if you don't confess we're going to take you to Texas. He said What can I do he said. If it's God's will to take me to Texas I will go to Texas. He had a young wife who was very ill. He and the sheriff be friended him finally in the fight it was too or even for this sheriff and this sheriff came to his his defense. But it didn't help. Conyers was not reinstated. And these people are still still have honorable dishonorable discharge against their names. Yes and this is something that I hope I've already started making inquiries to see if it is possible there is a board for the Correction of Military Records to get it
on to your major reno did right. That was a case I had in mind and I want to see if we can't get some a campaign started to have the records corrected there's a for example is privately printed history the 25th Infantry. This incident and these men are not mentioned it. They have become as in the Soviet Union non-persons is that they never existed. Which in this case lead almost directly to the forming of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Yes it did because one of the forerunners of the of the end of a CPA was the Niagara Movement and this not Agra movement coincided with the Brownsville incident and at the last two conventions of the Niagara Movement Brownsville was a very important factor and when Booker T Washington in early in the Pat administration managed to destroy the Niagara Movement it reemerges as the end of race EPEAT and browns it was very instrumental. But it's interesting you you pick up history books and you will find that I grew movement and obviously you will find no reference to Brown's that
it never happened. Did you have any trouble doing research in any blocks put your way at all. None at all. That day there was I had all the official records they were very easy to come by there in every college library that just no one had ever looked at them and then I went to Brownsville and I went to Austin I went to the Texas his father an old colleague from the Kansas City Star which is like a universal fraternity and he ward Calvo and ward very kindly turned the files of paper over to me. I ran into one witness who was still alive. Mr Cowan who was an 18 year old youngster at the time of the raid in his family's house was most badly shot up and I could see what it would be if you could talk to eyewitnesses all these years that his account was fascinating because I of course had read all of his testimony given at. Within a few weeks you know and it completely contradicted what he had told over the years that it required a certain pattern that went and done it unconsciously surely Of course you know that his
habit is very innocent I guess mother one day. I said How long were you in dad in Brownsville. This is the eyewitness where she's always knew that we were there from the faucet we got the logo for Thanksgiving and we stayed till about Christmas. I told mother I said as one of the tricks memory plays it acts as if you arrive on the noon train on a late on a Friday on a late in late November and left the following Tuesday so that's impossible. I think that's what the paper was he said the papers are wrong. She turned three days into a month or more in a month because you see over the period of years it must have been longer she was there for one long and then well we haven't mentioned your accounts of the eyewitnesses in here because they were so obviously either biased or wrong. I mean they would see somebody a distance of 20 feet in a dark alley and they could identify his uniform yes as being yellow yeah. So he was wearing a uniform which nobody could have known. And of course the policeman wore uniforms almost identical with the soldiers and he well and also the officers the white officer said they could not identify
their own man. They the courts of the Fort you know Garrison on the on the you know the grounds of the arson at what 15 feet 10 10 to 10 feet and the times people identifying people under similar circumstances at 30 40 and 50 including including one elderly gentleman in his 70s who had one eye missing and the other eye had defective vision and never could read what he put on his glasses and he testified three times each time what he saw became more and more detailed at a distance of over 100 feet. It's impossible physically impossible. Well was there ever any anyone besides Forrester who made a serious effort to clear this up and the general who came out of retirement to defend Saunders Mark or was the only leading was the only one who led any concerted fight or the newspaper publishers who did. Yes Ed. Yes they were at the New York World. The yard did it for them but not really not very hard. And by the time that this court of inquiry made its report in 1910 many papers didn't even
carry the story. It is as though you know it. Would you think Roosevelt finally realized that we're talking about Teddy Roosevelt of course finally realized he was wrong. I does that why he was so defensive. I think I think and question he knew what he was wrong and he never admitted it and never faced it but in late in life when he wrote his autobiography he doesn't mention Brown's own is that he does mention Booker T wars and nor does the word Negro occur in his index it is though there were no black people in Teddy Roosevelt's world. But toward the end of his life Parker also wrote a large two volume autobiography with a great long account of the Brownsville incident. And Roosevelt and Fargo had a nice exchange of letters. It was very pleasant and Roosevelt said if he ever got a neighborhood of Oyster Bay to come they'd sit on one pole but some Civil War battles and so on. It was a very nice and friendly exchange but Roosevelt never said he was wrong. He never said. I read the admired your account of the brown delivery of you know he did not tell and you work on it two years and two long grueling years because the records are
you know whose shelf full of these books I had index of books because you find those things. For example one of the witnesses testified that these two officers he heard two officers make a remark one afternoon about an incident they are sure that they did know about the bargain as a but of course they knew about it they read about it in the paper that morning that this remark was allowed to stand in the testimony but there wasn't any morning paper in Brownsville. It was an afternoon paper. Did you check the paper for that date and see if it really is indeed and I check what time it arrived on the streets and roads between 4:30 and 5:00 What was it in the paper. There is a telegram in the rear of the files as to what date. What our That paper on that day was. Yeah but I mean the engine that the bartender talked about you checked in the paper. Oh yeah it was Arabic but he couldn't of known about it at the time the officers were talking the obvious couldn't couldn't read in the paper that morning and they were in his voice say at 2 o'clock they were in the bar two hours before the story appeared in the paper and he heard them referring to it that's the point of how many books have you done. This is the seventh.
And to have more about Warren or the Warren court Earl Warren in the court and then one on the everyday workings of the federal government. And I'm kind of a student bureaucracy this is one of the things that interests me and but the work in the bureaucracy and then I did a couple novels in a children's book on Ted Lincoln. But this one. Probably is your first really like is historical. Yes I mean as far as an adult one goes. Yes the others are modern history but as far as doing research and getting out the past. Did you enjoy the research very much. Is it fun to put things together. Brain with I could disappear into the science of UCLA library and no one would ever hear from me again just send me a hamburger that I and a little bottle of bourbon once in a while I could be there forever. I love it because so much fun to put in the missing parts. Exactly when I went went to Austin Texas I went to the Texas History Center and wonderful woman there runs a Dr Lorraine a friend and she knows everything there is to know about. Texas is doing just for you find every document. So what are you working on as to the rights of the Browns the old ravens that all you said they shorebird that one didn't I think.
Well yes that was the point of it. Isn't it funny to have good material. No they had virtually nothing on it. There they did have something in the somethings in the Texas archives on the Texas Rangers and their part in it to do the soldiers write letters about it. You find any personal letters from the soldiers that I found found some in Parker's papers and written to him. Yes. Oh and then some in Washington in the presidential papers. And thank you John. We've been talking with John D Weaver author of the Brownsville raid which is an account of a very bad miscarriage of justice against some negro some black soldiers in 106 I Bob told me from the Chicago Tribune thank you for watching us I hope you're with us again and John thank you for coming in. Thank you. Delightful of you book be has been made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is the national educational radio network.
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Book Beat is a literary radio program hosted by Chicago Tribune columnist Robert Cromie and made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. In each episode, Cromie interviews an author about a specific book theyve written or translated. Authors discuss the books background, topics, and themes as well as their research and writing process.
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Host: Cromie, Robert, 1909-1999
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