Submitted by Steve
There was no angry white mob. The riot/mutiny was instigated by the soldiers. Corporal Boston was among 19 members of the 24th who were hanged for their role as ringleaders of the Camp Logan Mutiny of 1917. After Boston’s death, Marie leaves Houston and goes to New York.
Based on a true story and set in 1917, the all-black 24th US Infantry Regiment, led by Sergeant Hayes (Mykelti Williamson), is assigned to guard the construction of Camp Logan in Houston, Texas, under the command of Colonel Norton (Thomas Haden Church). Even though it’s a military base, local civilians are doing the construction work at Camp Logan, and most of the workers are white. In no time, the locals have begun mistreating the soldiers, and Captain Lockhart (Jim Klock), the only other white officer at Camp Logan, is doing it too. While this is happening, in other parts of the country, race riots are breaking out. White mobs are descending on black towns and killing the residents, solely because they are black. One night, some of the soldiers, after a night on the town, are taking the streetcar back to the base. The soldiers are forced to sit in the back of the car, but there aren’t enough seats for all of them. So Private Walker (Mo McRae), the troublemaker of the group, sits in the white section. The conductor refuses to drive the streetcar until Walker moves, but he stays put. At this time, a pair of Houston police officers arrive and begin to beat up Walker. After they throw him off, they kick the other soldiers off of the streetcar and tell them that Jim Crow is the law in Houston and they better respect it. The next day, Col. Norton and Capt. Lockhart are speaking to another one of those soldiers, Private Boston (Trai Byers). Norton recommends Boston, who is American but raised in Paris, for Officer Training in Iowa, but he declines, saying he prefers service over ambition. Norton then asks why Private Walker violated the local racial law. Boston answers that they are military, but Norton says that as long as they are in Houston, they will follow the local laws.
Several nights later, the local black church holds a dance and invites the soldiers. While there, Boston catches the eye of the piano player. After a few dances, Boston walks her home, and during the walk he learns her name is Marie (Aja Naomi King), and she is the preacher’s daughter. The next day, as a result of the incident on the streetcar, Col. Norton picks four men to be Military Police, and their assignment is to protect the men of the 24th, both on base and off, with newly-promoted Corporal Boston as their leader. They are assigned nightsticks, but not guns because the local PD won’t allow blacks to carry guns outside the base. Later, Boston goes to visit Marie, but he finds Walker already there, and he tells Boston she is his girl. The next day, Walker is continuing to get on Boston over Marie when he punches Walker, starting a fight. Captain Lockhart breaks up the fight, then has both men tied up and whipped. Col. Norton later admonishes Boston for starting the fight, but reams out Lockhart for his actions, saying that if he does that again, he will be court-martialed.
Later that day, Boston and the MPs are called to a break up a fight amongst the construction workers that ends with a white man killing a black man. Boston orders the white man arrested and is taken to the local police station. They are met by the same cops from the streetcar who want to arrest Boston for laying his hands on a white man, but the police chief orders them to arrest the killer, or they will be fired on the spot. Back at Camp Logan, Norton congratulates Boston for being the first black man in Houston to arrest a white man for murdering a black man, but he will now be a target for the whites. That night, Walker wants to know why Boston has to make things harder for them. Boston tells him that he is no different than any other black man. His parents were slaves, and his father was killed by whites for being a teacher, but he got a chance to go to Paris, and he wants the equality that he had there in America for all blacks, not just him. They clear the air, and Walker then tells him that he isn’t Marie’s guy, and he can see her again if he wants. The next day, he follows Marie into town and takes her to lunch. Later, he tells her she’s beautiful and they kiss.
Some time later, Col. Norton is offered a transfer to the War Department to oversee troops in France, but it’s for him only and not the 24th. He is also told that if he refuses the transfer, he will never get another opportunity. So the Colonel accepts the transfer and, before he leaves, promotes Lockhart to Major and he is now the commander of Camp Logan. Before he leaves, Norton talks to Boston, and the Corporal says doesn’t believe Major Lockhart will be as respectful to the men as the Colonel was. Norton then tells Boston to go to Officer Training School so he can eventually make a difference for black soldiers, but again Boston declines. That night, he tells Marie he turned down Officer School because he doesn’t want to be called an Uncle Tom, because that’s what everyone will think he is if he leaves. Marie convinces him he isn’t an Uncle Tom, and if he goes to Officer School, she will go with him to Iowa. Back at the base, Boston learns from Hayes that the man he arrested was released by the local judge with no charges filed, so he made himself and the other soldiers a target for nothing. Despite what Hayes said, the rest of the 24th are happy for Boston after he tells them he’s leaving for Officer Training School and will eventually get to go to France.
At the same time Boston is telling the 24th his news, the streetcar cops are chasing a trio of black men and are shooting at them. One of the bullets nearly hits a woman and her newborn and she yells at them. The cops then stop the pursuit and start to beat her and threaten to kill her baby. Private Davids (Joseph Lee Anderson), one of the base’s MPs, sees this and stops the cops from hitting her. They then beat him up and leave him for dead. Boston, who is back in town to propose marriage to Marie, hears about this and leaves Marie’s house to get his man back. Boston confronts the cops, and they start shooting at him. Boston runs away and the cops give chase, just as a thunderstorm rolls in. At this time, a local man goes to the base and tells everyone what happened, but he tells them that the cops killed both Davids and Boston and an angry mob of white men are on the way to the base to kill everyone else. Hayes orders the men to the armory to arm themselves, but Lockhart stops them and orders the armory locked. Lockhart then goes into town, finds Boston in jail, and demands his immediate release. He also wants Davids’ corpse, but nobody knows where it is. Now back at the base, Lockhart shows the men that Boston is alive and says he will go to the police chief and have those cops fired. But before he can leave, shots are fired into the base, and the soldiers say it has to be the mob of angry whites. After a shot hits Lockhart, he orders the men to return fire, then goes to the infirmary, leaving Sgt. Hayes in charge. Hayes then has the armory unlocked and orders the men to arm themselves.
As the storm ends, night falls and the armed soldiers, led by Sgt. Hayes, march in formation into Houston. The date is August 23, 1917, and the Camp Logan Mutiny (as it will be later known) has begun. Whenever the soldiers see any white person, they fire on them, but they allow all blacks to go by unharmed. Boston is carrying a rifle, but he refuses to fire on anyone. He even prevents the shooting of a young white couple in their car who are bringing home their newborn baby. However, they shoot at another car full of cops, then are horrified to see that it was actually Army soldiers, including an officer, trying to stop them. Hayes, who gave the order to shoot, finally comes to grips as to what is happening and orders the men back to the base. On their way there, Sgt. Hayes tells the men he won’t be returning to the base, and says goodbye to all of them. He then gives his sidearm to Boston and orders him to shoot him dead. Boston refuses and gives back the gun, telling him he doesn’t have to do this. Hayes says no longer has any honor, and he’d rather do this than face a firing squad, then shoots himself in the head, killing himself instantly. Before the men reach the base, a unit of white soldiers captures the 24th and disarms all of them. They are then handcuffed and marched back through the streets of Houston. Marie sees Boston and goes to him, but a white soldier stops her and beats her.
Three months later, the court-martial of the 24th is about to happen. Boston is led into the courtroom, where Col. Norton is waiting for him. Norton feels terrible now for accepting the transfer, because he thinks if he stayed, this wouldn’t have happened. Norton then tells Boston that since he never fired his weapon, if he testifies against the mutineers (as they are being called), all charges against him will be dropped and he can still go to Officer Training. But if no one does, every single member of the 24th will be executed. Boston promptly refuses the offer, saying that he was there and he is just as guilty as the ones who did fire their weapons. He wanted those white people dead, but when he raised his weapon, he saw a man, even if that person didn’t see one in return. Norton then says do it for Marie, but he still says no. At the trial, presided by an all-white tribunal, it’s learned that another soldier who never fired his weapon, Private Lucky (Lorenzo Yearby), took the immunity offer and he testifies against the rest of the 24th. He says that the death of Private Davids and the belief that a white mob was coming is what started the talk of mutiny, but it was revealed after the fact that Davids wasn’t dead, just seriously injured, and the shooting from the white mob, including the shot that hit Major Lockhart, was actually from other soldier’s sidearms, and they were shot from a predetermined area that made everyone think it was a white mob. Lucky then names several members of the 24th as ringleaders, including Corporal Boston. He adds that the remainder of the men, including Lucky, didn’t join the mutiny until they saw Boston pick up his weapon. Eventually, all members of the 24th are found guilty of mutiny, and before their sentences are read, each one stands up and says “I am a man!” Afterwards, the ringleaders, including Boston, are hanged.
A short time later, Col. Norton visits Marie at her home. He wordlessly hands her a note and walks away. The note is from Boston, written the night before his death. In it, he tells her that he went into Houston that night, not for himself, but to insure her future, as well as that of her future husband, their kids, and everyone else. The note also included the ring he was going to give her that day. Later, she gets on a bus for New York, the place where he once told her to start her future.
The movie ends with title cards revealing the aftermath of the Camp Logan Mutiny, also known as the Houston Riot of 1917. The court-martial was the largest murder trial in American history, with 60 of the 63 members of the 24th as defendants (except Major Lockhart and Privates Lucky and Davids). The 24th killed 20 people that night (11 civilians, 5 policemen, and 4 Army soldiers), and 19 members of the 24th were executed and the other 41 were given life sentences.