Sergeant Major John W. Calloway: A Voice to Challenge Empire

In November of 1899 the Philippine-American War shifted into a long stage of protracted guerrilla warfare. Outnumbered by the uniformed Filipino revolutionaries by more than three to one, and with white volunteer regiments rotating home at the end of their year-long enlistments, the War Department transferred 6000 African American soldiers to the Philippines (Russell 2014, 205). This included the 24th and 25th Infantries to the Philippines, as well as two newly-formed regiments (the 48th and 49th US Volunteer Infantries), and both the 9th and 10th Cavalries (New York State Division).

There was good reason to call upon them: many of these men had achieved the highest military honors in the land due to their courage and valor under fireThe new arrivals “built and maintained telegraph lines, constantly performed patrol and scouting duties, provided protection for work crews constructing roads, escorted supply trains, and located and destroyed insurgent ordnance and other supplies” (Russell 2014, 205-6). But there would be a cost for doing their jobs too well. Sergeant Major John W. Calloway, experienced soldier and reporter for the Richmond Planet, called out the incongruency between empire and democracy—in private correspondence—and he was punished for it.

Dress-on-the-Colors
“Dress on the Colors” by Dale Gallon. Acting Color Sergeant George Berry of Troop G, 10th US Cavalry Regiment carries the national flag of his own command as well as the standard of the 3rd US Cavalry Regiment in the assault upon the Spanish works at Kettle Hill, San Juan Heights, Cuba, July 1, 1898. Original commissioned by US Army War College, Carlisle, PA.
relations with the Filipino public

In November 1899, while the 25th Infantry was operating in the north of the country, they planned the raid of an enemy stronghold. In a war where “marked severities” were common enough among white units to warrant a later Senate investigation, the 25th kept their discipline. “In an instance of impressive restraint, these African American soldiers refused to massacre the unprepared and unorganized Filipino troops; instead they took over a hundred prisoners and captured stores of food, ammunition, and weapons” (Russell 2014, 205-6).

African-American soldiers Spanish-American War
Formation of Black soldiers, after the Spanish-American War. Accessed at the Library of Congress.

Filipino citizens immediately noticed the difference. As Filipino physician Torderica Santos told Sgt. Maj. Calloway:

Of course, at first we were a little shy of you [Black soldiers], after being told [by the whites] of the difference between you and them; but we studied you, as results were shown. Between you and him, we look upon you as the angel and him the devil. Of course you both are American, and conditions between us are constrained, and neither can be our friends in the sense of friendship; but the affinity of complexion between you and me tells, and you execute your duty so much more kindly and manly in dealing with us. We can not help but appreciate the difference between you and the whites (“Voices from the Philippines” 1899, 1).

In the article in the Planet, Calloway explains what passes as treating Filipinos kindly, at least by American Army standards: not spitting at them in the streets or calling them racial epithets (“Voices from the Philippines” 1899, 1).

Full-article-voices-from-philippines-richmond-planet
“Voices from the Philippines,” written by Sergeant Major John W. Calloway, and printed in the Richmond Planet on 30 December 1899. Full text courtesy of the US Library of Congress Chronicling America project.

Because of this relatively sympathetic treatment, some Filipinos were eager to have all American officials in their country be African Americans. “I wish you would say to your young men that we want Occidental ideas, but we want them taught to us by colored people. . . . We ask your educated, practical men to come and teach us them,” said wealthy planter Tomas Consunji, from San Fernando, Pampanga, north of Manila (“Voices from the Philippines,” 1).

Calloway agreed. He finished the article thus:

I wish to add before closing, that if our young men who are practical scientific agriculturalists, architects, mechanical, electrical and mining engineers, business men, professors and students of the sciences and who know how to establish and manage banks, mercantile business, large plantations, sugar growing, developing and refining, they will find this the most inviting field under the American flag. Cuba does not compare with the Philippines. Another thing too when they secure missionaries and teachers for the schools here, see that they get on the list. They must be represented there. . . . They extend to us a welcome hand, full with opportunities. Will we accept it? (“Voices from the Philippines,” 1).

Notice that in Calloway’s printed work, he agreed with the Progressives in their nation-building programs of “benevolent assimilation.” At least, he supported programs that provided opportunities for carpetbaggers of every race. A letter by Captain F. H. Crumbley of the 48th Volunteers printed in the Savannah Tribune agreed: “There are every openings here for the Negro in business, and room for thousands of them” (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 49).

24th-Infantry-leaving-Salt-Lake-City
24th Infantry Leaving Salt Lake City, Utah, for Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 24th, 1898. Accessed at the Library of Congress.

Many Black soldiers did stay behind in the Philippines, according to another letter by Sergeant Major T. Clay Smith of the 24th Infantry in the Savannah Tribune: “ . . . several of our young men are now in business in the Philippines and are doing nicely, indeed, along such lines as express men, hotels and restaurants, numerous clerks in the civil government as well as in the division quartermaster’s office, and there are several school teachers, one lawyer, and one doctor of medicine” (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 49). Others became agricultural tycoons, judges, or small business owners (Ontal 2002, 129).

There was room for romance too. “Arguably, the Philippine islands had in its possession history’s largest proportion of African-American soldiers who opted not to return home after completing military service abroad” (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 51). Over a thousand of the soldiers deployed in the Philippines married Filipino women and stayed in the islands (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 50). In fact, Governor Taft admitted that he feared that these soldiers got along “too well with the native women,” and so he sent the rest of the Black regiments Stateside as quickly as possible (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 50).

too much democracy? Or not enough.

Got along too well? Exactly. In 1907 Stephen Bonsal, a Black correspondent in the Philippines wrote: “While white soldiers, unfortunately, got on badly with the natives, the black soldiers got on much too well. . . . the Negro soldiers were in closer sympathy with the aims of the native populations than they were with those of their white leaders and the policy of the United States” (quoted in Russell 2014, 213).

For example, Robert L. Campbell wrote to Booker T. Washington: “I believe these people are right and we are wrong and terribly wrong. I am in a position to keep from bearing arms against them and I will try and keep myself in such position until we are mustered out; of course, if I am ordered to fight, I will obey orders as a soldier should . . .” (quoted in Russell 2014, 212). But what if others did not obey orders?

24th-infantry-drill-Camp-Walker-Philippines
The 24th U.S. Infantry at drill, Camp Walker, Philippine Islands, in or around 1902. If that date is accurate, Sgt. Maj. John Calloway had already been forced out of the Army. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

That was the worry when Sergeant Major Calloway’s case came to light. He had revealed a “dangerous” level of humanitarianism in private correspondence to his friend Tomas Consunji (Boehringer 2009, 3):

After my last conference with you and your father, I am constantly haunted by the feeling of what wrong morally we Americans are in the present affair with you. . . . Would to God it lay in my power to rectify the committed error and compensate the Filipino people for the wrong done! . . . The day will come when you [Filipinos] will be accorded your rights. The moral sensibilities of all America are not yet dead; there still smolders in the bosom of the country a spark of righteousness that will yet kindle into a flame that will awaken the country to its senses, and then! (Quoted in Russell 2014, 209).

In 1901, when white soldiers of the 3rd Infantry searched Consunji’s home for evidence of ties to nationalists, they found the correspondence between the two men. They sent it on to Calloway’s commanding officer, Colonel Henry B. Freeman of the 24th, a white man who had only been in the country for three months (Boehringer 2009, 2). Though Calloway claimed that the letters only expressed “a personal feeling, expressed to a personal friend, [and] had no other intent or motive,” the colonel believed them treasonous.

A group portrait of soldiers from the Company I, 24th Infantry Regiment, in uniform. Notice how many of the African American soldiers and NCOs are wearing medals for distinguished service: seven out of 44 pictured. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Colonel Freeman wrote in the official report: “Battalion Sergeant Major Calloway is one of those half-baked mulattoes whose education has fostered his self-conceit to an abnormal degree” (quoted in Russell 2014, 213). If Calloway had an abundance of confidence, he had earned it through active service since 1892. He had done strike- and riot-breaking in the western mining states, along with hostage rescue, before fighting in three separate expeditions of the Cuban and Philippine fronts (Russell 2014, 215) and achieving the highest enlisted rank possible (Scot 1995, 166). Now, he wished to stay and invest his $1500 savings in a business venture in Manila, but he was thrown in Bilibid Prison instead. All this because of private correspondence, obtained by a possibly illegal search, that effectively said that imperialism was immoral—the very principle on which the United States of America was supposedly founded (Russell 2014, 212-13).

24th-Infantry-drill-Camp-Walker-Philippines
The 24th U.S. Infantry at drill, Camp Walker, Philippine Islands, about 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In this and future American wars, one of the key tenets of counterinsurgency has been that military action alone will not encourage forces of resistance to set down their arms. People must see the carrot, not just feel the stick. In the Philippine-American War, the military leaders called this strategy “attraction.” Later, during another counterinsurgency in the Philippines, this time against communists during the 1950s, it was called “civic action.” In Vietnam, civilians colloquially called it “winning the hearts and minds” of the people. Good rapport, then, is an asset, not a liability. If African American regiments were forming true friendships with Filipinos, why were the white commanding officers so angry?

The Inspector-General would state: “I regard [Calloway] as a dangerous man, in view of his relations with the natives, as shown by this letter, and the circumstances of his court-martial” (Boehringer 2009, 3). Colonel Henry B. Freeman said of Sergeant Major John W. Calloway: “In my opinion he is likely to step into the Filipino ranks, should a favorable opportunity occur” (Russell 2014, 213). General Arthur MacArthur, commander of the entire war and father of future General Douglas MacArthur, agreed: “It is very apparent that [Calloway] is disloyal and should he remain in these islands, he would undoubtedly commit some act of open treason and perhaps join the insurrection out and out. One man of the 24th Infantry by the name of David Fagen has already done so and as a leader among the insurrectos is giving great trouble by directing guerrilla bands” (Boehringer 2009, 3).

Sketch-Fagen-Utah-newspaper
There are no reliable photographs of David Fagen, either in the US or Philippine military. Most of the ones you see are actually different soldiers. This sketch from the 30 October 1900 issue of the Salt Lake Herald is not necessarily more reliable.

David Fagen’s story is worth a post of its own later, but this man was one of twenty-nine African American soldiers to desert the Army in the Philippines, and one of nine who defected to the Philippine Revolutionary Army (Robinson and Schubert, 73 n23). It is important to note that fourteen white soldiers also defected to the Filipino side (McCann and Lovell, 54), though that number was a smaller percentage of those who served in the islands. What particularly upset MacArthur about a Black soldiers’ defection was probably the phenomenon described by Ibram X. Kendi: “Negative behavior by any Black person became proof of what was wrong with Black people, while negative behavior by any White person only proved what was wrong with that person” (2017, 42-43).

Buffalo-soldiers-robes-Montana
Nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers,” African American units had been formed to fight in “government-led wars meant to overtake the Southwest and Great Plains from Native Americans.” The moniker “Buffalo Soldiers” may have been a compliment paid to the soldiers by the enemy, who noticed that the Black regiments “fought like the fierce Great Plains buffalo.” It also could have come from the buffalo robes that were not part of the official uniform but were procured by any soldier who could afford one, as shown in this Library of Congress photograph of soldiers of the 25th Infantry, at Ft. Keogh, Montana. Above quotations from Smithsonian Institute.

Black soldiers were specifically targeted by Filipino propaganda leaflets that brought up the same questions their own papers were asking back home (New York State Division). One read:

To the Colored American Soldier: It is without honor that you are spilling your costly blood. Your masters have thrown you into the most iniquitous fight with double purpose—to make you the instrument of their ambition and also your hard work will soon make the extinction of your race. Your friends, the Filipinos, give you this good warning. You must consider your history, and take charge that the Blood of Sam Hose proclaims vengeance (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 46).

This letter was attributed to President Emilio Aguinaldo, but many believe it was penned by Foreign Minister Apolinario Mabini (Ontal 2002, 125), the polymath genius who had studied American history and society closely enough to reference the “spectacle lynching” and mutilation of Sam Hose of Newnan, Georgia. It was hard to ignore letters like Mabini’s. Even worse, it was hard not to notice how the new American regime was recreating the world of Sam Hose around them—and to wonder whether they, as soldiers in the US Army, were complicit in this expansion of segregation.

Racism and segregation in the military had clearly been at fault in causing Fagen’s defection. Fagen had been considered by his former white officers as “rowdy,” “bucking” his superiors, “a good for nothing whelp,” and “in continual trouble with the Commanding Officer” (Ontal 2002, 125). He had even been charged with seven counts of insubordination and punished with “all sorts of dirty jobs” (Ontal 2002, 125). After he defected, the colonial newspaper Manila Times depicted Fagen “as a gifted military tactician waylaying American patrols at will and then evading large forces sent in pursuit” (Ontal 2002, 126). He showed his former officers of the 24th Infantry exactly how wrong they were.

The fear of MacArthur and others was this: what if Calloway, the highest-ranking African American in the 24th, followed Fagen into the Philippine Revolutionary Army or any of the guerrilla organizations fighting in its name? Unlike Fagen, Calloway was already proven to be competent, highly-educated, and a fine leader. What damage could he do to the United States Army?

24th-and-25th-infantry-San-Juan-Cuba
Charge of the 24th and 25th Infantry and rescue of Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, July 2nd, 1898. Illustration credited to Kurz & Allison, 1899, and accessed at Library of Congress.

But this fear was all in their heads! There was no evidence that Calloway ever considered defection. He hoped for both peace and Filipino rights, but he trusted in the people of the United States to provide both. The fact that the white officers understood Mabini’s propaganda to be effective means that they recognized the truth of it—which means that they should have seen that it was American policy to blame, not the sympathies of Calloway. Nevertheless, the Army busted Calloway down to private and dishonorably discharged him. He would try to reenlist several more times, the last during World War I, but he would be denied every time (Boehringer 2009, 3).

He was not the only one to be disappointed. What progress had been sought by the “Black Phalanx” was lost in the extension of Jim Crow policies throughout the empire (quoted in Gleijeses 1996, 188). The US military would not be desegregated until the Truman administration after World War II, when America’s role as the champion of democracy would be questioned by foreign allies (Kendi 2017, 351). The professionalism, excellence, and courage of African American soldiers in the 1898 wars has been largely forgotten in white-dominated histories of the period.

24th-Infantry-ready-for-Cuba
“Tramp, tramp, tramp for Cuba.” The 24th U.S. Infantry in Georgia in 1898, drilling for the upcoming war in Cuba. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
selected Bibliography:

[Featured image is a vintage postcard of the 25th Infantry at Basilan in the Sulu Archipelago.]

Boehringer, Gill H. “Imperialist (In)Justice: The Case of Sergeant Calloway.” Bulalat: Journalism for the People (Manila, Philippines), April 4, 2009. Accessed August 3, 2020. http://www.bulatlat.com/2009/04/04/imperialist-injustice-the-case-of-sergeant-calloway.

Brown, Scot. “White Backlash and the Aftermath of Fagen’s Rebellion: The Fates of Three African-American Soldiers in the Philippines, 1901-1902.” Contributions in Black Studies 13, no 5 (1995): 165-173. http://scholarworks.umass.edu/cibs/vol13/iss1/5.

Gleijeses, Piero. “African Americans and the War against Spain.” The North Carolina Historical Review 73, no. 2 (1996): 184-214. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23521538.

Kendi, Ibram X. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York: Bold Type Books, 2017. Kindle edition.

New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs. “Black Americans in the US Military from the American Revolution to the Korean War: The Spanish American War and the Philippine Insurgency.” New York State Military History Museum and Veterans Research Center. Last modified March 30, 2006. Accessed June 29, 2020. http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/articles/blacksMilitary/BlacksMilitaryContents.htm.

Ngozi-Brown, Scot. “African-American Soldiers and Filipinos: Racial Imperialism, Jim Crow and Social Relations.” The Journal of Negro History 82, no. 1 (1997): 42-53. http://doi.org/10.2307/2717495.

Ontal, Rene G. “Fagen and Other Ghosts: African-Americans and the Philippine-American War.” In Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream, 1899-1999, edited by Angel Velasco Shaw and Luis Francia, 118-30. New York: New York University Press, 2002.

Robinson, Michael C., and Frank N. Schubert. “David Fagen: An Afro-American Rebel in the Philippines, 1899-1901.” Pacific Historical Review 44, no. 1 (1975): 68-83. http://doi.org/10.2307/3637898.

Russell, Timothy D. “‘I Feel Sorry for These People’: African-American Soldiers in the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902.” The Journal of African American History 99, no. 3 (2014): 197-222. http://doi.org/10.5323/jafriamerhist.99.3.0197.

“Voices from the Philippines: Colored Troops on Duty—Opinions of the Natives.” Richmond Planet. (Richmond, Va.), 30 Dec. 1899. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84025841/1899-12-30/ed-1/seq-1/.

Who Saved Roosevelt’s Hide

This is the story you may have heard: Theodore Roosevelt built the second half of his national political career on his reputation as a hero from the Cuban theater of the Spanish-American War. As a lieutenant colonel with the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, also known as the “Rough Riders,” Roosevelt promoted his own efforts in the fight to liberate Santiago, Cuba. His friend, Colonel Leonard Wood, helped create the legend by reporting to the War Department, “I have the honor to recommend Lieut. Col. Theodore Roosevelt . . . for a Medal of Honor for distinguished gallantry in leading a charge on one of the entrenched hills to the east of the Spanish position in the suburbs of Santiago de Cuba, July First, 1898” (Yockelson 1998, 3).

This is the part you probably don’t know: Wood was not at the battle, and those who were there would tell a different story: Roosevelt and his Rough Riders owed their victory and probably their reputations to the African American regiments who saved their hides. These were the same troops Roosevelt would later disparage and, in some cases, dishonorably discharge by executive order.

History in Sugar Sun series by Jennifer Hallock
Navy accidents, fake news, and a New Yorker bent on war. I mean the Spanish-American War of 1898. What were you thinking? Find out more.

Mr. Charles McKinley Saltzman, a white graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Cuba campaign, praised the 9th and 10th Cavalries, along with the 24th Infantry, for charging San Juan Hill in the most integrated battle of the war. He said that these African American soldiers “did much to save the Rough Riders from being cut to pieces” (“Compliment to Colored Soldiers,” 1). The 24th Infantry “bore the brunt” of the fighting—and though they were specifically targeted by the Spanish, they stood their ground and performed challenging maneuvers “under the hottest fire of the day” (“Colored Troops Win Praise from the White Press,” 2).

24th-and-25th-infantry-San-Juan-Cuba
Charge of the 24th and 25th Infantry and rescue of Rough Riders at San Juan Hill, July 2nd, 1898. Illustration credited to Kurz & Allison, 1899, and accessed at Library of Congress.

A reporter from New York said that the 10th Cavalry advanced, “firing as they marched, their aim was splendid. Their coolness was superb and their courage aroused admiration of their comrades” (New York State Division). First Lieutenant John “Black Jack” Pershing—a hero who would fight in the Philippines and eventually become the American commander in Europe during World War I—also agreed that the 10th Cavalry saved Roosevelt’s forces. Rough Rider Frank Knox himself called the 10th Cavalry “the bravest men he had ever seen” (New York State Division). A white corporal, who would also admit to his prejudice against Black Americans in general, was quoted saying: “If it had not been for the Negro Cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated” (“Gov. Tanner’s Speech,” 4).

African-American soldiers Spanish-American War
Formation of African American soldiers whose unit is not identified. Accessed at the Library of Congress.

The Richmond Planet, an African American community newspaper, forecasted that though these soldiers had been “a right useful ‘article’ when white troops are in a tight place” (“Gov. Tanner’s Speech,” 4), they would not be properly recognized. That is not entirely true. A few were: five members of the 10th Cavalry received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest and most-prestigious personal military decoration, as did a Black naval fireman on the USS Iowa off the coast of Cuba.

Edward-Baker-Medal-of-Honor-Cuba
Edward Lee Baker, Jr., of the 10th Cavalry, winner of the Medal of Honor for service in the War against Spain in Cuba. Image courtesy of the National Medal of Honor Museum.

Twenty-five other soldiers from African American units were awarded the Certificate of Merit, the second highest award at the time (New York State Division). But those who did not survive Cuba did not receive their due posthumously. In fact, they were not even brought home to be buried like the fallen Rough Riders and other white officers. Instead, after suffering a 20% casualty rate (New York State Division), the African Americans killed in combat were buried in unmarked graves on the San Juan Heights near where they fell (“President McKinley and the Negro Soldiers,” 1).

Dress-on-the-Colors
“Dress on the Colors” by Dale Gallon. Acting Color Sergeant George Berry of Troop G, 10th US Cavalry Regiment carries the national flag of his own command as well as the standard of the 3rd US Cavalry Regiment in the assault upon the Spanish works at Kettle Hill, San Juan Heights, Cuba, July 1, 1898. Original commissioned by US Army War College, Carlisle, PA.

How did Roosevelt get the credit? He had “friends in the newspaper business [who] ensured that his exploits in Cuba were not overlooked by the public” (Yockelson 1998, 1). And it did make a good story: the rising star of the Republican Party had overcome debilitating asthma in his youth to become a college athlete, a successful rancher, and New York City Police Commissioner. Then he resigned his desk job as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy to endanger himself in battle. At least those parts of the story are true. The rest is not:

Roosevelt gives the impression that he alone was the first to charge the San Juan Heights to drive away the entrenched Spaniards. This image of Theodore Roosevelt was propagated with the help of Richard Harding Davis. Reporting for the New York Herald, Davis transcribed what Roosevelt told him, then added his own twist to the story. In addition to the newspaper articles, magazines and books picked up his story. Davis depicted a fearless Roosevelt, wearing a blue polka-dotted bandanna, charging up the hill mounted on his horse, Texas. Thus the legend of Theodore Roosevelt was created (Yockelson 1998, 2).

As he continued to recount his exploits, the tales grew taller and taller (Yockelson 1998, 2). Eventually, reflecting satisfactorily on his own bravery, Roosevelt wrote: “I am entitled to the Medal of Honor and I want it” (Yockelson 1998, 1). Four months later, he “painfully told [Senator Henry Cabot] Lodge on December 6 that ‘if I didn’t earn it, then no commissioned officer can ever earn it’” (Yockelson 1998, 3).

24th-Infantry-1900
A group portrait of soldiers from the Company I, 24th Infantry regiment, in uniform. Notice how many of the African American soldiers and NCOs are wearing medals for distinguished service: 7 out of 44 pictured. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

When faced with the lack of direct eyewitnesses to prove his valor, Roosevelt claimed that was because he was so far out ahead of his fellow soldiers: “I don’t know who saw me throughout the fight, because I was almost always in the front and could not tell who was close behind me, and was paying no attention to it” (Yockelson 1998, 4). His entitlement reached a fevered pitch when he wrote Senator Lodge: “I don’t ask this as a favor—I ask it as a right . . . If [the president and the War Department] want fighting [over it], they shall have it” (Yockelson 1998, 3).

Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill
Charge of the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill by Frederic Remington. Accessed at the New York Public Library.

Twenty-six other soldiers did earn the Congressional Medal of Honor in the fight for Santiago, Cuba, including the five Black cavalrymen of the 10th and the one sailor mentioned above, but Roosevelt did not receive the citation in his lifetime (Yockelson 1998, 4). He did not lose well, especially not to the African American soldiers that the War Department recognized:

In a series of articles published in Scribner’s Magazine [Roosevelt] contended that the physical ability of African-Americans to perform on the battlefield was only useful if guided by the paternal supervision of white officers. He even claimed that African-American soldiers had an inordinate tendency to retreat and engage in “misconduct” when white officers were not present. . . . [This behavior was] “natural in those but one generation from slavery and but a few generations removed from the wildest savagery” (Ngozi-Brown 1997, 44).

In another article, Roosevelt wrote that Black soldiers were “particularly dependent upon their white officers. Occasionally they produce non-commissioned officers who can take the initiative and accept responsibility precisely like the best class of whites; but this can not be expected normally, nor is it fair to expect it” (Amron 2012, 414-15). He even claimed that the African American soldiers lagged back in the rear, some fleeing the battlefield, until Roosevelt himself prompted them forward at revolver-point (Amron 2012, 415; New York State Division). “According to Presley Holliday, a former Sergeant in the 10th Cavalry, Roosevelt actually stopped four soldiers on their way to pick up ammunition from a supply point”—not retreating at all, in fact. The four soldiers were doing their job (New York State Division).

Scribners Roosevelt Memoirs
Roosevelt’s serialized war memoirs in Scribner’s, courtesy of Streets of Salem.

How did the United States War Department see fit to reject Roosevelt’s lobbying for an award and instead bestow the same upon a handful on the soldiers he disparaged? Could they have been swayed by other press outlets? J. N. Johnson, a prominent African American doctor and attorney, wrote to the Washington Post:

. . . I write to thank the press, including The Post, in the name of the whole race, for favorable mention of the black soldiers who played their part so well, though having no opportunity for official recognition of their conspicuous bravery. . . . The negro soldier was needed; he was on hand and played his part well; and though the government is silent the press sings his praise (“Negro Soldiers Bravery” 1898).

24th-Infantry-leaving-Salt-Lake-City
24th Infantry Leaving Salt Lake City, Utah, for Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 24th, 1898. Accessed at the Library of Congress.

Unfortunately, according to antiracism expert Ibram X. Kendi in his book Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, the recognition of these Black war heroes did little to halt the spread of racist ideas. “While ‘negative’ portrayals of Black people often reinforced racist ideas, ‘positive’ portrayals did not necessarily weaken racist ideas. The ‘positive’ portrayals could be dismissed as extraordinary Negroes, and the ‘negative’ portrayals could be generalized as typical” (2017, 328). Bravery, patriotism, and valor would not end discrimination. In fact, the crimes of the Jim Crow period—including disenfranchisement, convict leasing, and lynchings—would only accelerate.

African American Medal of Honor winners
Portraits of 15 African American soldiers and sailors who received Medals of Honor for service in the American Civil War, American Indian Wars, and Spanish American War from W. E. B. Du Bois, accessed at the Library of Congress.

How bitter would Roosevelt be? On the one hand, in 1901 he was the first president to invite an African American to join his family for supper at the President’s House. But the straightforward invitation to prominent educator Booker T. Washington set off a firestorm. South Carolina senator said that it would take the lynchings of a thousand Black people “before they will learn their place again” (Kendi 2017, 290). Roosevelt promised to never repeat his mistake, and to be sure he officially renamed the residence the White House (Kendi 2017, 290).

Buffalo-soldiers-robes-Montana
Nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers,” African American units had been formed to fight in “government-led wars meant to overtake the Southwest and Great Plains from Native Americans.” The moniker “Buffalo Soldiers” may have been a compliment paid to the soldiers by the enemy, who noticed that the Black regiments “fought like the fierce Great Plains buffalo.” It also could have come from the buffalo robes that were not part of the official uniform but were procured by any soldier who could afford one, and shown in this Library of Congress photograph of soldiers of the 25th Infantry, at Ft. Keogh, Montana. Above quotations from Smithsonian Institute.

He would also single-handedly tear apart the careers and eliminate the pensions of 167 Black veterans—the entire 25th Infantry battalion—after blaming them for a riot in Brownsville, Texas, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Six of these men had won the Congressional Medal of Honor, and thirteen had received the Certificate of Merit, the next highest award. 123 of the 167 had served in the US Army for over five years, which means combat in the Philippines, and 26 of them had served for over ten years, which means combat in Cuba too. One career soldier had spent 24 years in the Army. All of them lost their entire retirement investment by executive order, without even the decency of a court-martial (“Troops Not Spared” 1906, 1). (Much the same had already happened to Sergeant Major John W. Calloway for equally spurious reasons.)

Washington and Roosevelt in the White House
Booker T. Washington at the White House from “The Secret Life of Booker T. Washington.”

Eventually Teddy Roosevelt got what he wanted—in 2001, more than eight decades after his death. During the waning days of the Clinton Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense bestowed a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor upon Theodore Roosevelt. His media machine finally won.

selected Bibliography:

[Featured image is a vintage postcard of the 25th Infantry at Basilan in the Sulu Archipelago.]

Amron, Andrew D. “Reinforcing Manliness: Black State Militias, the Spanish-American War, and the Image of the African-American Soldier, 1891-1900.” The Journal of African American History 97, no. 4 (2012): 401-26. https://doi.org/10.5323/jafriamerhist.97.4.0401.

“Colored Troops Win Praise from the White Press.” Richmond Planet. (Richmond, Va.), 23 July 1898. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84025841/1898-07-23/ed-1/seq-2/.

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Baseball in the Philippines

Baseball arrived in the Philippines with Commodore George Dewey in May 1898. After sinking the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and taking over Cavite Naval Base, the Olympia‘s team, the Diamond Diggers, played the first Army-Navy game on Philippine soil. I could not find out who won.

The 1899 Philippine Islands baseball championship cup.

Though basketball proved a more popular sport amongst Filipinos in the long term, baseball is a fitting metaphor for the entire American occupation.

American justifications for imperialism were racist right out of the gate. The Yanks claimed to be “benevolently assimilating” the Filipinos, and assimilation included sport. General Franklin Bell (of reconcentrado fame) claimed that “baseball had done more to civilize Filipinos than anything else,” and the Manila Times called it a “regenerating influence, or power for good” (quoted in Gems 112).

Boston Globe racism in Philippines
A racist illustration called “Expansion, Before and After,” from the front page of the Boston Sunday Globe on 5 March 1899. If you thought that northern liberals were not racist enough to put such drawings on the front page of their most institutional newspaper, then you were wrong.

Colonial racism was not limited to Filipinos, either. The Americans mistreated their own, including the 24th and 25th Infantries, both African American regiments. Jim Crow America came to Manila, including all-white barber shops and all-white baseball leagues. The 25th—who played for “Money, marbles, or chalk, money preferred”—got a small bit of revenge by winning the island championships for four years in a row.

25th Infantry baseball team in 1916
The 25th Infantry baseball team, pictured here in 1916. I could not find one from earlier years.

Baseball was a part of the Thomasite educational program from the beginning. The teachers hoped that it would replace cockfighting, though that goal ultimately proved too ambitious. Still, baseball did catch on. One Thomasite reported: “We first got hold of the Jolo boys through baseball” (quoted in Elias 44). Because English was the language of the diamond, it was seen as a way to advance a holistic curriculum. According to public health commissioner, Victor Heiser:

…a group of yelling Igorots (mountain tribespeople) had been seen playing baseball in a remote clearing. The catcher wore only a G-string and mask, and the runner on first started for second amid cries of: “Slide, you son of a bitch, slide!”

Girls playing baseball in the first decade of the twentieth century.

This was all military policy, when you get down to it. Remember that public schools were started because “no measure would so quickly promote the pacification of the islands,” according to the colonial government’s 1903 Census. In other words, Americans wanted to rule with books, not Krags. This is called civic action—or, as it was known in the Philippines, attraction. (And it is better than drones, but if those are your two choices please re-examine all your assumptions.) Baseball was a “weapon” in the search for peace. The Los Angeles Times claimed that “The American athletes will teach them that the bat is more powerful than the bolo” (quoted in Franks 17).

Igorot baseball in the Philippines
An Igorot baseball team, as photographed by Philippine Commissioner Dean C. Worcester at National Geographic. (Do note that Worcester’s treatment of the mountaineers was racist, patronizing, and ultimately corrupt. That will need to be a whole new post.)

Baseball may have provided a romantic substitution as well. The indigenous tradition of the Cordillera mountaineers (often called Igorots) suggested that a prospective groom could impress his bride’s family with a “scalp of their bitterest enemy,” according to American sportswriter Ernie Harwell. Conveniently, baseball provided an alternative: home runs: “Americans, acting as muscle-bound cupids, often played simple grounders and easy outs into home runs so their Filipino friends could escape bachelorhood” (quoted in Elias 45). (In Sugar Moon, Ben Potter needs eight runs in a pick-up baseball game to earn Allegra’s hand, but no one takes it easy on him.)

Though Allegra was not much of a player herself, girls could and did play the game. This followed the Thomasite emphasis on coeducation, maybe the best thing the Americans brought to the Philippines. Both boys and girls still play to great success in the Philippines. Youth league world championships often feature Filipino teams as the representative champions of Asia, and sometimes they win the whole darned thing:

Softball world champion team from Manila
The 2012 Big League Softball World Series Champions, Team Philippines.