Gripping new exhibition casting light on one of Houston's darkest days takes root in Memorial Park

ByHolly Beretto CultureMap logo
Friday, September 8, 2023
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HOUSTON, Texas -- One of the darkest events in Houston history is the spotlight of a new exhibit by the Memorial Park Conservancy in partnership with the Buffalo Soldiers Museum.

"Park Conversations: Remembering the 1917 Houston Mutiny and Riots" will feature six onsite audio experiences situated throughout Memorial Park's 100-acre Clay Family Eastern Glades at 552 E. Memorial Loop Drive.

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The exhibit kicks off Wednesday, Aug. 23 with an an opening reception from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Live Oak Court. The free public event features refreshments, live entertainment by world-renowned saxophonist Kyle Turner, and the chance to be among the first to see the exhibit, which runs through Sept. 26.

Memorial Park sits on the site of the former Camp Logan, a World War I training camp. On August 23, 1917, after several hostilities from Houston's all-white police force against the city's Black population and Black soldiers at Camp Logan, members of the U.S. Army's all-Black 24th Infantry Regiment mutinied.

In the resulting melee, five soldiers, five policemen and 11 civilians were killed. Those involved in the mutiny were tried via court martial; 13 Black men were found guilty and hanged. Another 41 were sentenced to life in prison.

No white defendants were brought to trial.

"What happened on August 23, 1917 and the subsequent tragedies are part of not only Memorial Park's and Houston's history, but the nation's," Shellye Arnold, president & CEO, Memorial Park Conservancy, tells CultureMap. "This body of knowledge continues to evolve. By learning from our past we can create a better tomorrow for all of us."

This self-guided exhibit commemorates the 106th anniversary of the event, and includes audio selections featuring the words of decedents and community members whose reflections humanize this tragedy. Exhibit attendees should note that due to the sensitive nature within the audio, parental discretion is advised.

Camp Logan - itself - boasts a long military history. Some 70,000 soldiers trained there, with construction on the camp beginning in the spring of 1917, shortly after the United States declared war on Germany.

Members of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, one of the country's four "Buffalo Soldiers" (read: Black soldiers) regiments, were ordered to Houston to guard the construction. They had previously fought in Mexico, under the command of Black Jack Pershing in the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa.

When they arrived in Houston, they were met with the city's Jim Crow restrictions. Therefore, after the riot, none of the soldiers who were executed were allowed reviews on their sentences. A small light in the darkness: Faced with national outrage at the unreviewed executions of the original 13 soldiers, the Army implemented the first appellate review process for military courts-martial in the 1920 Articles of War.

While the new exhibit is indeed dark, it's somewhat fitting that it's set in our beloved green space. Houston, like Memorial Park, has grown and bloomed since that regrettable period.

This article comes from our ABC13 partners at Houston CultureMap.