By Allen R. Gray
George Santayana was the first to espouse that “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
For the African American experience, though, it is not a matter of merely remembering the past, it is, in fact, a matter of knowing that certain historical events even occurred as it seems that more Black history is buried than is revealed.
So becomes the controversy that promoting Critical Race Theory just might expose the true and insidious face of American systemic racism.
Unfortunately, contemporary learners at all levels of education have become caught in the cross-tide created by Critical Race Theory detractors and those hoping to present a history that hasn’t been whitewashed.
The question then becomes: Is a history that has been culled truly history or is it more a fabled narrative slanted in favor of whites.
Critical race theory presents a means of understanding how American systemic racism has shaped its policies and laws in ways that have as many negative impacts on Blacks in 2023 as it did at the beginning of the 1900s.
The danger then becomes when a misinformed young Black man assumes American freedoms and liberties are meant for him. That he has the right to walk or jog down the street or stand aimlessly on a street corner without violent retribution from overjealous policemen.
Or as in the case of the all-Black 24th Infantry Division stationed in Houston, Texas at the start of the 20th Century came to discover that they had the right to defend America—but they did not have the right to defend themselves in America’s racial structure.
Houston, Texas 1917:
With the new construction of Camp Logan in Houston, the 24th Infantry Division out of New Mexico was sent to Texas to guard the construction site. The soldiers of the all-Black unit had not yet been fully indoctrinated in the southern ways of racial interactions.
Before long, the soldiers’ forays into town left the soldiers subjected to constant harassment and abuse by the Houston Police Department. Soldiers were being pistol-whipped, shot at, and arrested without just cause. On one such occasion, a soldier attempted to make peace with Houston PD on the behalf of a Black woman accused of harboring a soldier. The soldier’s act of reconciliation led to him being pistol-whipped, shot, and taken into custody by the Houston PD.
The news reached that reached Camp Logan, though, was that the soldier had been shot and killed, which did not bode well with the other Black soldiers.
The 24th decided to do what soldiers are trained to do—what men do when set upon unjustly—they rallied the troops (156 strong) and marched into town to exact their own brand of justice. What resulted was labeled as the Houston Riot.
This “riot” took place during one the bloodiest and most tumultuous times for Black folk in America when a brutal wave of 33 major white supremacist terrorist attacks occurred in America between 1915 and 1949. The most brutal years, though—the period between 1915 and 1919—came to be known as Red Summer.
In the wake of the riot over eleven civilians and five policemen were killed. Five Black soldiers were also dead when the shooting finally ended.
The remaining soldiers then became defendants in one the largest courts-martial in American history, where almost two hundred witnesses testified over twenty-two days and more than two thousand pages of transcripts were generated.
The decision was swift and decisive.
The army found 110 of the African American soldiers guilty. On December 11, 1917, 13 to 18 of those soldiers with hanged at a location just outside of San Antonio. Sixty-three other Black soldiers received life sentences in federal prison.
Two white officers also faced courts-martial, but they were released without further penalty. Not one white civilian or policeman faced a jury.
It is these gaps in America’s history that have lifelong educator Dr. Jacquelyn Cook Kyle concerned about the way students are being educated by the omission of historical facts.
Critical Race Theory is crucial to education at all levels, says Dr. Kyle. She added, “We profess the sincere desire to move forward with truth, liberty, and justice for all,” but we routinely overlook the truth, liberty, and justice for African Americans.
Dr. Kyle’s organization Sisters With A Ph.D. (SWAP) has taken on the promotion of the recently acclaimed documentary Betrayal of Justice: A Buffalo Soldier Story, which she says is relevant and culturally significant.
“We believe in this project,” Dr. Kyle states. “More needs to be known about what actually occurred at Camp Logan.”
Betrayal of Justice… is a new documentary that explores the Camp Logan tragedy and reveals why the details of this buried event resonate with today’s incidents of police brutality and the aftermath.
The documentary, which was selected for viewing at the Culver City Film Festival, was directed by North Texas filmmaker Lindell Singleton, and co-executive produced by Dr. Kyle.
Dr. Kyle insists that the Betrayal of Justice… documentary illuminates a story that historically has significant gaps. The true importance of the documentary for present-day learners, she contends, is that it provides a multi-generational lens to see what actually happened at Camp Logan in 1917, and then it allows us to determine how it relates to what’s happening repeatedly to young black men and women in the streets and even in their homes at the hands of the police and the judicial systems that support them.
The fight to unbury the truth is well ahead of Dr. Kyle and others like her, who hope to present an unbridled truth of a people whose triumphs and tragedies might otherwise be forgotten.
For those seeking to quash and bury truth a headline from a 1917 Houston area newspaper would serve as a historical epitaph if they would have their say:
NEGROES ARE GONE HOUSTON IS QUIET For more buried history see: Texas’ Forgotten War: Vol.-5-No.-2-Feb.-1996.pdf (northdallasgazette.com); Erasure: Vol.-5-No.-7-July-1996.pdf (northdallasgazette.com)