The Brownsville Raid's I 68th Man: The Court-
Martial of Corporal Knowles
GARNA L. CHRISTIAN*
ON SEPTEMBER 28, 1972, SECRETARY OF ARMY ROBERT F. FROEHIKE
attempted to calm a nation's conscience by issuing 167 honorable
discharges to members of the black First Battalion, 25th Infantry, whom
President Theodore Roosevelt had dishonorably dismissed from the
service in 19o6 following a "conspiracy of silence" on the notorious
Brownsville Raid. Strongly persuaded by a historian and a congress-
man, Froehike declared Roosevelt's earlier decision "a gross injustice."
The last survivor of the incident, eighty-six-year-old Dorsie W. Willis,
mustered little emotion at the belated pardon, other than to pronounce
the original executive order "a frame."'
With the flourish of a pen Froehike symbolically cleansed from the
government's slate the remnants of a discredited racist period of Amer-
ica's past. When a group of men under cover of darkness assaulted the
South Texas settlement of Brownsville in 19o6, killing one civilian and
wounding another, few at that time doubted the culpability of the gar-
rison at adjacent Fort Brown. Although townspeople failed to identify
any of the accused during a series of investigations, all sectors of gov-
ernment joined the public outcry in judging the Negro soldiers respon-
sible. The Cameron County grand jury returned no indictments but
vigorously denounced the military. Courts-martial found the white offi-
cers innocent of negligence while assuming the guilt of the enlisted
men. Texas Governor S. W. T. Lanham, abetted by congressmen and
legislators, successfully pressured the army to remove all black units
from the state. Although a United States Senate investigating commit-
*Garna L. Christian is professor of history at the University of Houston-Downtown He has
published a series of articles on the black military In Texas.
INew York Tames, Sept 29, 1972 (quotations) For the Brownsville Raid sec John D. Weaver,
The Brownsville Raid (New York: W. W. Norton, 1970); Ann J Lane, The Bvownsvale Affazr Na-
tional Crisis and Black Reaction (Port Washington. Kennikat Press, 1971); .James A. Tinsley,
"Roosevelt, Foraker, and the Brownsville Affray," Journal of Negro History, XLI (Jan., 1956),
43-65; The Brownsville Affray. Report of the Inspector General of the Army , S. Exec. Doc. 389,
6oth Cong., 1st Sess (Serial 5252).
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/. Accessed April 28, 2015.