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US scraps ‘unfair’ WWI-era convictions of Black soldiers

The US Army on Monday announced it is setting aside the “unfair” convictions of 110 Black soldiers who were court martialed over 1917 unrest in Houston, Texas. The soldiers — who were guarding the site where a military camp was being constructed — took up arms following months of racial abuse, discrimination and assaults and marched into the city, where 19 people were killed in clashes. The military subsequently convicted 110 of the soldiers over the violence and put 19 of them to death in what the Army said was its largest mass execution of American troops. “After a thorough review, the board has found that these soldiers were wrongly treated because of their race and were not given fair trials,” US Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in a statement, referring to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. “By setting aside their convictions and granting honorable discharges, the Army is acknowledging past mistakes and setting the record straight,” she said. Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo — speaking at a ceremony in Houston in which the names of the soldiers were read out — said a mechanism has also been established “to deliver survivor benefits to families long denied the financial resources owed to them.” The South Texas College of Law had petitioned for a review of the courts martial, while retired general officers also requested clemency for the 110 soldiers, the Army said. Wormuth then asked the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to review the records. Its members found “significant deficiencies permeated the cases” and recommended that the convictions be scrapped. There is a long history of discrimination against Black American soldiers, who served in segregated units until US president Harry Truman issued an executive order banning the practice in the armed forces in 1948. In addition to direct discrimination against Black troops, a series of US military bases bore the names of people who served the pro-slavery Confederate States of America, which was defeated in the 1861-1865 Civil War. The United States changed the name of the last of the nine bases that honored Confederate figures late last month, marking the culmination of a multi-year effort to rename the installations.

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