Brownsville Incident

The Brownsville Incident (1906) occurred in Brownsville, a town in south Texas, where, on August 13, 1906, a race-related fracas occurred that resulted in the wounding of one white civilian and the death of another. White townspeople blamed the African-American soldiers of the 25th Infantry recently stationed at nearby Fort Brown. President Theodore Roosevelt discharged without honor the entire regiment of 167 men, despite the fact that all the soldiers asserted their innocence. Roosevelt did not expel the white officers, who attested that the soldiers had been in their barracks at the time of the melee in town. No military trial was ever held. A Texas court cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing. Roosevelt nevertheless sided with the white citizens of Brownsville who swore the soldiers were guilty. He sent investigators to assess the events of August 13, but his mind was already made up. The report, dated February 7, 1909, reinforced the stories of the civilians and found the regiment to be at fault.

Roosevelt’s dismissal of the innocent soldiers is usually considered his worst mistake as president. The men lost their careers, salaries, pensions, and military honors. Roosevelt faced criticism from many sectors, but never backed down, changed his mind, or apologized. 

In 1970, journalist John Weaver scrutinized the evidence and interviewed those still living. He concluded that the white citizens of Brownsville had misled earlier investigators and that the soldiers were innocent of the charges against them. Weaver’s work stirred the U.S. Congress to conduct another study. Their findings mirrored Weaver’s, and in 1972, Congress reversed Roosevelt’s order of dismissal and made restitution to the soldiers.