Angela Holder: A Personal reflection on the Houston Riots
Angela Holder is a professor of American history in the department of social and behavioral sciences at Houston Community College, Central campus. She is also the great niece of Corporal Jesse Moore, Company I, 24th Infantry. Cpl. Moore was among the first 13 members of the 24th who were summarily hung at Salado Creek near Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio for their alleged participation in the riot. In this piece, Holder reflects on the effect of the circumstances of Moore’s death and how her family has been affected over the last 95 years since the event.
The loss of a son, brother, nephew, cousin, uncle, or in my case, a great-uncle, has been painful, to say the least. It is not the fact that he died
that was so hurtful, but “how” he died, coupled with a second loss: no body over which to mourn. As the old people used to say, “he was not brought back to the bosom of his family.”
A mother’s premonition that something bad would happen to her son was not enough to deter the faraway longing in him for a better life. No one had a clue that Uncle Jesse’s leaving the town of Riddle, Louisiana for Kentucky and later the exotic tropics of the Philippines and the dusty plains of Mexico would leave him at the end of a noose in the pre-dawn hours of December 11, 1917.
A life of unfulfilled promise is a tragedy in and of itself because he had just been promoted to corporal in May 1917. He was not married and left no children for us to embrace as an extension of him. However, he did have brothers and sisters who kept his memory alive despite no place to go to “visit” him. It was on the words of these siblings that his nieces and nephews embraced the profession of becoming educators,as a way to counteract hate and ignorance.
I am a third generation teacher following into the classroom Uncle Jesse’s sisters, Kate Ball and Victoria Ball Spann, and a brother, Joseph Ball, as well as my late mother, Jesse’s niece, Laurel Turner Holder, and her first cousins.
Despite the manner of Uncle Jesse’s death, his brothers Charles and Cornel Ball served in the army and navy, respectively. Another brother,
Everette Ball, served with the Canadian military. A future brother-in-law who would become my grandfather, William Henry Turner, served in WWI in France. Uncle Jesse’s nephews and great-nephews have served with distinction in the military with one currently at the rank of colonel.
When I finally found Uncle Jesse’s gravesite in December 1987, 70 years of pain were alleviated, but not before the death of Uncle Joseph in 1985. He had gone to Washington in 1963 to seek information on his brother, but was denied – there was not yet a Freedom of Information Act in place. Only one sibling, Victoria, was privileged to know that her brother had been found.
My late mother was one of seven nieces and nephews who wanted to see something done on Uncle Jesse’s behalf. He had written to his mother that he was not guilty of the charges brought against him and that he had remained at the camp during the riot. This letter came to her after his death in a box containing his coat, bible, and a dollar. She was never the same.
Uncle Jesse’s sister, Lovie, named her daughter (my cousin) Jesse and kept a picture of him in her home which is how I came to know about him. As a tribute to her and my great-grandmother, I would like to have the words “service terminated by death without honor” removed from his service record. While I wanted to have all of the men given a posthumous honorable discharge like the men of the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Regiment in 1972, Uncle Jesse’s 87-year-old niece, Dolores O’Connor Johnson, suggested a pardon because there may have been some men who were properly punished with the innocent. We are circulating a petition to that effect that we hope you will sign.
The family legacy from this event has been to remain in service to this country, embrace and maintain a strong sense of justice and fairness, and continued optimism in the good of your fellow man. -- A.H.
Ms. Holder has produced a booklet, "Camp Logan Mutiny Houston Riot 1917." The booklet gives and overview of the event as well as segments on "The Twenty-fourth Infantry Regiment and the Segregated Army," the mood in Houston during the soldiers' stay leading to the riot, and gives complete listings of the deaths from the Aug. 23, 1917 insurrection as well as the 24th Infantry soldiers who were executed. To purchase ($5) a copy, visit the museum:
3816 Caroline St,
Houston Texas 77004
Or contact the museum: