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Flashback to Brownsville

September 5, 2017

Around midnight August 13/14, 1906 a lot of bullets were fired in Brownsville, Texas.  One man was killed, and one was injured, losing an arm.  The black soldiers stationed nearby were assumed to be the perpetrators, but this was never proven in a court of law.  In fact, no one was ever indicted.

Major Charles W. Penrose, the white officer in charge of the fort, was court-martialed.  He was charged with failure to take measures that would have prevented his black soldiers from shooting up the town.  He was also charged with failure to conduct a proper investigation in order to discover the perpetrators.  Both charges were predicated on the notion that the black soldiers were guilty.  Since this could not be proven, Major Penrose was acquitted.  However, the logic of the situation did not change things in favor of the discharged battalion.

Brownsville’s young Democratic legislator thought it was “preposterous” to think that anyone else could have done the shooting.  Congressman John Nance Garner later became Vice-President of the United States for two terms.  The Republican President also assumed the black soldiers were guilty.  He believed that although only a handful of soldiers were involved, most of the battalion knew who had done the shooting.  When no one gave up the perpetrators, the investigators were ready to charge the entire battalion with violation of the military code of conduct.

But no one could tell what he did not know, and as further investigation would reveal, the timelines, physical evidence, and motivations of the black soldiers did not align with the prevailing narrative.  Some of the noncommissioned officers were men of the highest character.  Among these was 1st Sergeant Mingo Sanders, who had served in Cuba the same time as Colonel Roosevelt.  During that time Sgt. Sanders had done something for which his current Commander-in-Chief owed him a debt of gratitude.





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