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'The 24th' Illuminates Historic Houston Riot

Courtesy Vertical Entertainment
A still photo from the film, "The 24th," about the all-Black Army regiment that was involved in the Houston riot of 1917.

From Texas Standard:

In the spring of 1917, as World War I was raging in Europe, the U.S. Army's 24th Infantry Regiment – comprised entirely of Black soldiers – arrived in Houston to guard an Army encampment that was under construction. For months, white locals and police harassed the soldiers until tensions escalated to a riot.

During the Houston riot on Aug. 23, 1917, over 100 Black soldiers took their weapons into town after hearing a rumor that a fellow soldier had been killed and that a mob of white Houstonians was coming to the camp. At the end of the resulting mêlée, 15 white Houstonians and four Black soldiers were dead.

A new film by director Kevin Wilmott, "The 24th," tells the story of the all-Black regiment, and the violence on that summer night over 100 years ago. Wilmott is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who's written screenplays for "BlacKkKlansman," "Da 5 Bloods" and "Chi-Raq." He told Texas Standard that the idea for the movie came from a book he stumbled upon years ago called "The Black West."

"In that book, there was a photograph of the trial of the 24th," Willmott said. "The caption on the photograph said 'The largest murder trial in American history,' and I had never heard anything about this."

On racial tensions in 1917:

The [Houston] police were notorious, kind of, bad group of folks. But you could say that about a lot of cities in America at that time. ... This was a climate of horrible race crimes and riots going on all over the country during this period.

On the movie's parallels with the present day:

[George Floyd's] sacrifice has made people kind of finally realize, on a larger scale, that ... police abuse is a horrible, terrible thing and its been affecting African Americans since policing was invented shortly after the Civil War.

On seeing the conflict from the soldiers' perspectives:

When you go through what they went through, and the buildup of the abuse and the injustices and all of the horrible kind of things that they endured, finally reached a breaking point, that's something that I saw as a kid. I was in a riot in high school. I didn't participate in the riot but I was in the middle of it; I saw it, and I saw friends of mine just flip and break and do things I would have never thought they would ever do. And the thing I really learned from that connects to that great definition of a riot by Dr. [Martin Luther] King, who said, a riot is the language of the unheard.

On the story of the 24th being more than a cautionary tale:

This is not Black history; it's not the history of violence in the country. This is American history, and the more we see the events of things like the Houston riot of 1917 as American history ... the more we embrace that, the more we will move forward as a nation in terms of race relations.

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