On a hot August afternoon at Camp Hood, Texas, in 1944, nine Army officers sat in judgment in the general court-martial of a second lieutenant (2LT) accused of insubordination and disrespect under the Articles of War.1 The trial would last just four hours and fifteen minutes and result in a full acquittal.2 This seemingly unremarkable court-martial was one of millions convened to mete out justice during World War II (WWII), and could have easily been lost and forgotten in the grand scale of the war.3 No one alive today would remember this short proceeding had the accused not been the future American icon and baseball legend, Jackie Robinson.4 Destined to break the baseball color barrier on 15 April 1947, he would go on to win many baseball accolades before becoming a businessperson and civil rights champion.5 The character and resiliency Robinson displayed at his court-martial when his reputation, career, and freedom was on the line were precisely the qualities that Branch Rickey, President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was looking for when he selected Robinson for his “great experiment.”6
Many hundreds of books and articles would be devoted to the life and legend of Jackie Robinson in the ensuing decades. Several scholarly articles would detail and analyze the incident that led to the charges and the court-martial itself.7 The court-martial convened under the Articles of War replete with detailed rules and procedures that inform the larger story of what 2LT Robinson experienced on the fateful night of 6 July 1944.
The advent of the internet has made possible a new evaluation of his court-martial. The Record of Trial, now in digital format, and accessible to anyone, contains the full transcript of the proceeding and provides a nearly complete picture of all that occurred in those four hours at Camp Hood. Additionally, the National Archives Catalogue has made available Robinson’s complete Official Military Personnel File under its Persons of Exceptional Prominence program, allowing incredible insight into his brief Army career. Finally, modern internet search engines allow us to research other “characters” associated with the court-martial, gaining insight into their backgrounds and motivations. In this context, the complete story of United States v. 2LT Jack R. Robinson can be told.
2LT Jack R. Robinson
As a former four-letter collegiate athlete drafted into the Army in April 1942, Jackie Robinson was the ideal model of a citizen turned Soldier.8 An enlisted cavalryman and later cavalry officer at Fort Riley, Kansas, Robinson experienced early in his career the racism of a segregated Army.9 During one incident at this western Army post, Robinson would be denied admittance to the post’s baseball team, being told that he could play only on the “colored team.”10 In April 1944, Robinson was transferred to the now fabled 761st Tank Battalion at Camp Hood, Texas, to assume the position of tank platoon leader.11 Formed in 1942 and classified as a “colored” unit, the 761st Tank Battalion was typical of the how the Army employed African-American Soldiers: all African-American enlisted Soldiers led by all white field-grade officers and a mix of white and African-American officers at the company-grade level.12 Robinson would serve in the 761st for just three months before an ankle condition would threaten to sideline his promising military career.13
A 1937 football injury left Robinson with a floating bone chip in his right heel that plagued him throughout his military career.14 To determine his fitness for continued service, Robinson was required to undergo an Army Retiring Board (ARB) physical assessment.15 In order to make this process more efficient on the Army’s end, Soldiers stationed at Camp Hood undergoing the ARB battery of tests were temporarily transferred to McCloskey Hospital in Temple, Texas, thirty miles east of Camp Hood.16 On 21 June 1944, Robinson was transferred to McCloskey Hospital to be stationed there for a few weeks to undergo his ARB physical.17
6 July 1944
On the evening of 6 July 1944, Robinson set out from McCloskey Hospital and traveled to Camp Hood’s colored officers’ club to visit friends and socialize.18 He remained there for several hours socializing, but did not drink, as Robinson was a teetotaler.19 Several hours later, he boarded a bus near the club to return to the hospital.20
The bus Robinson boarded operated within Camp Hood as a shuttle moving Soldiers to and from locations on the sprawling installation.21 The bus was headed to Camp Hood’s Central Bus Station, a transfer area located near one of the main gates where on-post shuttles would meet county and other buses to take Soldiers and civilians further off post.22 Here, Robinson planned on boarding this bus to take him the rest of the way to McCloskey Hospital.23
When he stepped aboard the Army’s shuttle bus, Robinson recognized Virginia Jones, the wife a fellow African-American lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion who lived in nearby Belton.24 Jones was sitting in the middle of the bus, and Robinson, as an acquaintance, sat down next to her.25 After proceeding five or six blocks, the bus driver, a white man named Milton Renegar, instructed Robinson to move to the rear of the bus.26 Robinson refused, setting off a chain of events that would inform the rest of his life and career.27
Race-based seating on public transport was a staple of Jim Crow-era segregation laws throughout the south.28 However, Camp Hood and other installations located throughout the United States were on federal property that notionally did not enforce these biased state and local laws.29 Despite this, perhaps in an attempt to maintain the social order familiar to so many millions of white Americans, the Army maintained some segregated facilities, such as the colored officers club, even in states that did not have Jim Crow laws. But by June 1944, the War Department began to change some of its polices forbidding the enforcement of state Jim Crow era policies on busses on military installations.30
Given his connection to the African-American press, as well as other influential African-Americans, Robinson knew that segregation on public transport on federal installations was changing.31 In refusing the order to move to the back of the bus, he felt he was within his rights.32 But, the bus driver stood firm, telling him that he would “make trouble for him” upon their arrival at the bus station.33 At the bus transfer station, Robinson disembarked with Ms. Jones to catch his connecting bus, but was now swirled into a larger incident when Irving Younger, the station dispatcher, appeared to confront the young Lieutenant.34 Tempers were heated and voices were raised as a crowed formed around Robinson.35 Several of the other passengers, mostly white women who worked on Camp Hood, made racist remarks to Robinson, goading him, causing him to raise his voice.36
Finally, the Military Police (MPs) arrived on scene to quell the incident.37 One MP, Corporal (CPL) George Elwood, hoping to contain the situation, asked Robinson to sit in their patrol vehicle.38 While Robinson was in the MP vehicle, a Soldier, changing busses on the way back to his barracks and had seen the commotion, Private First Class (PFC) Ben Mucklerath, approached the MPs and asked them whether they had a “n----- lieutenant” in their car.39 Robinson heard this incendiary slur and threatened to break PFC Mucklerath “in two.”40 Corporal Elwood convinced Robinson to return with them to the MP guardroom to discuss the incident with the camp officer of day.41 To act as an eyewitness, PFC Mucklerath was asked to return to the guardroom as well.42
If Robinson hoped to find a sympathetic ear at the MP station, he would soon be sorely disappointed. Upon arrival at the MP guardroom, Robinson met with Captain (CPT) Peelor Wigginton, the camp’s laundry officer who was assigned as the officer of the day for 6 and 7 July 1944.43 The escorting MPs briefed Wigginton that an incident occurred at the bus station and he asked Robinson to explain what had happened.44 Unhelpfully, Wigginton also asked PFC Mucklerath for his observations, which he relayed in front of Robinson.45 This naturally led to a disagreement about the events at the bus station with Wigginton telling Robinson to stop interrupting the private.46 Perhaps feeling out of his element, Wigginton called for CPT Gerald Bear, the Camp’s Assistant Provost Marshal and Commander of the MPs, to assist him at the MP guardhouse.47 He ordered Robinson out of the building until CPT Bear arrived.48
Robinson intercepted CPT Bear outside the building, apparently eager to tell his story, and followed him into the MP building.49 Inside, Wigginton debriefed Bear while Robinson waited in an adjoining waiting room.50 The Dutch door to this room was left half open.51 Robinson became frustrated because he could hear the story being told without his input.52 He appeared several times at the doorway where Bear and the others were located, and protested about what he felt were inaccuracies in Wigginton’s story. According to Bear, he stated that Robinson “smirked or grimaced,” bowed, and rendered “sloppy salutes” whenever he was told to leave the doorway.53 This action repeated itself “several times” according to Bear and would later draw a specification of disrespecting a senior commissioned officer.54
Finally, Robinson was allowed to make his statement to Bear and “Ms. Wilson,” a stenographer who enraged Robinson with what he perceived as a racist attitude.55 Robinson, normally a quick speaker, was asked to slow down his speech for his statement.56 The incident at the guardhouse ended in a controversial manner that would end up being a major theme at the court-martial. Captain Bear directed that Robinson be escorted back to McCloskey Hospital in an Army vehicle by MP Soldiers.57 Robinson was mystified as to why he was being treated in this manner. Bear justified that Robinson was under “arrest in quarters.”58 Robinson likely arrived back at McCloskey Hospital around sunrise on 7 July 1944, his ordeal over, for now.
The Investigation and Statements
Almost immediately, Bear would drive an investigation into the matter of the previous evening. Having taken Robinson’s statement in the early hours of 7 July, over the next two full days, he would take sworn statement accounts from various witnesses who interacted with Robinson at the bus station or later at the MP station. More than a dozen individuals—enlisted MPs, civilian witnesses, as well as four fellow officers, including Bear and Wigginton—would provide sworn statements as part of Bear’s investigation.59 All portrayed Robinson in a negative light.
Milton Renegar, the bus driver, passengers Elizabeth Poitevint and Ruby Johnson, two white Camp Hood Post Exchange employees, and Bevlia B. “Pinkey” Younger, the bus dispatcher, made statements. Though ostensibly they made these statements as witnesses to the incident at the bus station, they may better be described as participants. All four of the civilians’ statements reveal the racism and prejudice of the period.60 Pinkey Younger openly referred to Robinson as a “n----- Lt.” twice and called him a “disgrace to the uniform he wears.”61 Renegar, explaining why he wanted Robinson to move to the back of the bus, stated he didn’t think his passengers—all white women—would want to ride in a bus “mixed up like that,” meaning next to an African-American.62 Elizabeth Poitevint, a post-exchange employee, displaying her displeasure at being close to an African-American stated, “I had to wait on them during the day,” referring to African-American Soldiers shopping at the Post Exchange, “but I didn’t have to sit with them on the bus.”63
The sworn statements made by military personnel, who were likewise all white, were also marked by the racism of the period. These enlisted MPs, some of whom met Robinson at the bus station and transported him to the MP station, and several officers, all of whom were witnesses at the MP station, provided sworn statements. Without exception, Robinson was never referred to as a “lieutenant,” but as a “colored lieutenant.”64 The distinction here is clear; he was less than a commissioned officer to these Soldiers. The MP and other officer statements, generally, all made the same observations: that Robinson’s actions in the MP station were disrespectful to Bear.
One other overarching theme was evident in the investigation. Bear was interested in whether or not PFC Mucklerath called Robinson a “n-----.” The two MPs dispatched to the disturbance at the bus station, CPL George Elwood and Private Lester Phillips, were asked whether they heard anyone call Robinson this epithet.65 Though the word “n-----” was commonly used during the period, the distinct impression from reading the case file is that it was still a loaded, hateful term and generally frowned upon by polite society.66 Private First Class Mucklerath would emphatically deny referring to Robinson in this way. From his sworn statement: “I had not any time called the Lt. a ‘n-----.’”67 In fact, Mucklerath did call him this epithet at the bus station, as CPL Elwood noted in his sworn statement that night.68 This denial and confrontation would pay off spectacularly later at the court-martial.69
The lone individual whose sworn statement was helpful to Robinson was that of Victoria Jones, the African-American woman he shared a bus seat with on that fateful night. She provided her sworn statement almost two weeks after the others and only after Robinson sought her out and encouraged her to make one.70 Previous attempts by Bear during his initial investigation were unsuccessful in attempting to persuade Ms. Jones to provide this statement. In a separate statement made by CPT Bear, he revealed that he went to Ms. Jones’s home in Belton, Texas.71 During this meeting, Jones stated that she had spoken to Robinson and he asked her not make a statement without talking to Robinson first.72 If CPT Bear, an MP, was troubled by Robinson’s alleged actions concerning Jones, he made no note of it in his sworn statement.
Ms. Jones gave her first and only statement on the matter in her home to Bear on 19 July.73 She was generally a favorable witness to Robinson’s conduct at the bus terminal that evening. She did not observe Robinson saying anything to the white individuals on the bus or at the bus station that was offensive, stating: “I did not hear [Robinson] say anything vile nor vulgar at any time, nor did he raise his voice.”74 While this statement from a friendly witness potentially could have been helpful, it seems unlikely that these statements were what actually occurred. Her version of events was likely colored by her acquaintanceship with Robinson, not least because Robinson, by his own admission and those of numerous other witnesses, threatened to break PFC Mucklerath “in two.”75
The historical record of the week following the incident is scant. Documents from Robinson’s military record indicate, unbeknownst to him and on account of his medical deployability status, was formally transferred from the 761st Tank Battalion to the 758th Tank Battalion (Light).76 On 16 July, Robinson, by now concerned that he would face court-martial, penned a letter to Truman K. Gibson, an African-American attorney, then serving as a special assistant on racial affairs to the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson.77 Robinson had met Gibson when he was stationed at Fort Riley, the year prior, when Gibson was sent as a special envoy to discuss racially charged incidents at the post.78 In this letter, Robinson asked Gibson for advice.79 He wanted to know whether he should appeal to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the African-American press of the time.80 Robinson recognized his heightened standing as a former National Collegiate Athletic Association athlete and semi-professional football player.81 Robinson, worried about both the fairness of the trial and about negative publicity for himself and the Army, asked Gibson what steps he should take.82 Gibson’s response to Robinson is unknown; however, handwritten on the letter from Robinson was a note: “this man is a well-known athlete. He will write you. Follow the case carefully.”83
Robinson’s suspicion or indication that he would be court-martialed would prove correct. In the latter half of July, Robinson felt the swift hand of WWII-era military justice. On 17 July, he was formally charged with six distinct violations of the Articles of War, the precursor to the modern Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).84
Charge I contained two allegations of disrespect to a superior commissioned officer, the Article of War 63.85 In the first specification, he was alleged to have been disrespectful to CPT Bear by stating, “Captain, any Private, you or any General calls me a n----- and I’ll break them in two, I don’t know the definition of the word.”86 In the second specification, he was charged with contemptuous behavior by bowing to Bear “and giving him several sloppy salutes repeating several times ‘OK Sir, OK Sir.’”87
The lone specification of Charge II, a violation of Article of War 64, alleged that Robinson failed to obey a lawful order by a superior officer, as Robinson violated Bear’s order to remain seated in a chair at the reception area of the MP guardhouse.
The final charge, three specifications of a violation of Article of War 95, involved the language Robinson used on the bus and at the Central Bus Station. One specification charged him with abuse and vulgar language for telling Renegar, the bus driver, that he was not “going to move a God damn bit” and called Renegar a “Son of a Bitch.” The second specification detailed “vile and obscene language” to Ms. Poitevint when he allegedly stated to her: “You better quit fuckin with me.” The last specification was a catch-all charge for using “vile, obscene and vulgar language . . . in the presence of ladies.”88
As part of being charged on 17 July, Robinson was also placed under arrest at McCloskey Hospital in Texas.89 Likely, this was intended as a form of pretrial restraint. The decision to arrest Robinson was standard practice. Article of War 19, arrest and confinement, mandated placing the accused in confinement or arrest, but states that confinement is not appropriate for minor charges (like the one that Robinson was facing).90 Article of War 69 mandated that someone arrested must be “restricted to his barracks, quarters, or tent.” 91 By arresting Robinson at McCloskey Hospital, they were limiting his freedom to the hospital grounds.92
Rarely do WWII court-martial records contain an extraordinary ancillary document that illuminates the thought process of the command. Luckily, the United States v. Robinson record does contain such a document. Filed on 17 July 1944, the same day that Robinson was charged, the document is a transcription of a telephone conversation between Colonel (COL) Edward A. Kimball, Commander, 5th Armored Group93 and COL Walter D. Buie, Chief of Staff, XXIII Corps, located at nearby Camp Bowie, Texas.94 XXIII Corps served as the training command and the General Court-Martial Convening Authority (GCMCA) for the 5th Armored Group.95 Colonel Kimball initiated the phone call because he had a case “involving a colored officer who got into trouble in connection with a bus.”96 Colonel Kimball explained that “this is a very serious case, and it is full of dynamite.”97 Colonel Kimball then requested an “Inspector” be sent from Camp Bowie because the matter was “delicate” and best left to an “outside Inspector.”98 He was afraid that he had no one impartial whom he could assign as “any officer [in this command] in charge of troops at this Post might be prejudiced.”99 Colonel Buie gracefully declined helping his subordinate commander by stating that his Corps would like to send an “Inspector,” but had none available.100 Colonel Buie ended the phone call by telling COL Kimball to “go ahead and handle it” and to advise them if they needed further assistance.101
The Article 70 Investigation
It is unknown why COLs Buie and Kimball referenced an “Inspector.” It hardly seems likely that they were referencing an Army Inspector General. It is almost certain that they were speaking about who was to serve as the investigation officer at Robinson’s upcoming Article 70 investigation; today known as an Article 32 hearing, the purpose was essentially the same. An assigned officer, having been forwarded the preferred charges, would make inquiries as to the truth of the matter set forth in the charges “and to make a recommendation as to the disposition of the case made in the interest of justice and discipline.”102 The single most notable exception between pre-trial investigations under the Articles of War and today’s UCMJ was that the accused, though provided the right to cross-examine witnesses against him, would not be afforded a defense counsel to assist in doing so.103 In accordance with the procedures of the Articles of War of its time, a defense counsel would only be assigned after the referral of charges as part of the appointment of a standing court-martial, which included both the members of the court-martial as well as the trial judge advocate.104
The investigating officer was Major (MAJ) Henry S. Daugherty of the 5th Armored Group. Major Daugherty held his investigation of the remaining charges and specifications on 19 July 1944, two days after both the Buie/Kimball phone call and the referral of charges.105 The evidence MAJ Daugherty used in his investigation was primarily comprised of the sworn statements taken by CPT Bear on 7 and 8 July 1944, with the addition of in-person testimony from CPT Bear and CPT Wigginton.106
Major Daugherty’s formal “Pretrial Investigating Officer’s Report” completed the day after the hearing on 20 July 1944, was composed on boilerplate forms of the era. His analysis of the facts and circumstances was not required under Article 70 nor was it included.107 Major Daugherty did not find a sufficient basis to send to court-martial Charge I, Specification I—relating to the allegation that Robinson was disrespectful to Wigginton—nor the two remaining Specifications of Charge III—alleging that Robinson used vulgar language to Ms. Poitevint, the passenger, and Mr. Renegar, the bus driver.108 The eliminated specifications had a common theme. Each alleged a reaction by Robinson at either being called a “n-----” or told to move to the back of the bus. Perhaps, MAJ Daugherty thought that Robinson’s alleged reactions were reasonable under the circumstances and that justice required that these charges be dropped.
Despite not recommending that more than half of the charges go forward, MAJ Daugherty still recommended that two specifications proceed to general court-martial.109 Two purely military offenses remained: a specification that Robinson was disrespectful in demeanor to CPT Bear, and another that he failed to follow Bear’s instruction to stay away from the interview room door.110 In another boilerplate memorandum, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Richard E. Kyle, the Staff Judge Advocate for the GCMCA, XXIII Corps, as part of his pre-trial advice to the convening authority, recommended that trial by general court-martial proceed against 2LT Robinson.111
A WWII Court-Martial
A WWII-era court-martial was fundamentally similar to today’s U.S. military court-martial. And, while recognizable as an American court of law, there are some major differences between a court-martial convened under the Articles of War and the UCMJ, a few that are worth noting in order to understand the story fully.
The composition of the court itself is the most striking difference between a court-martial during WWII and the modern era. Notably, there was no military judge.112 The equivalent duties of today’s military judge was split between two men: the President and the Law Member. A court-martial’s President was the senior officer on the panel and was charged with “maintain[ing] order, giv[ing] the directions necessary for the regular and proper conduct of the proceedings, [and] tak[ing] proper steps to expedite the trial of all charges referred for trial.”113 In practice, however, the President’s role was largely officious and any speaking he did during the court-martial was contained in prompts provided in the court-martial script. The duties that required legal analysis fell to the individual seated to the immediate left of the President, the Law Member. The Law Member was required to be an officer of the Judge Advocate’s Department, but in extenuating circumstances, could be an officer of any branch of the Army114 (it is almost unthinkable today to appoint a non-attorney to a purely legal role). Charged simply with “rul[ing] upon interlocutory questions,” the Law Member in practicality ruled on questions of evidence and objections made during the course of the trial and advised the Accused of his rights.115 The Law Member was required to be seated next to the President during the court-martial, but would also join the other members as a voting member after close of evidence to deliberate on guilt or innocence and, if necessary, the sentence.116
All courts-martial were composed exclusively of officers, known simply as “members.”117 Normally, the only requirement was that the officer have two years of service. A general court-martial like Robinson’s could have any number of members, but no fewer than five officers (the required minimum).118
Similarities and differences existed with regard to those individuals who represented the U.S. government and the accused. The Trial Judge Advocate (TJA), the precursor to the modern trial counsel, represented the government. In WWII, as today, the accused was represented by the defense counsel. Most strikingly, neither the TJA nor the defense counsel was required to be a judge advocate or even an attorney. At general courts-martial, each had an assigned assistant, acting in an identical capacity to the primary.119
All individuals were detailed to a standing court-martial, with the members, trial judge advocates, and defense counsels pre-detailed as a single bloc in the convening order. Members and counsel could be replaced (or viced in today’s parlance) for other officers. There was no voir dire, but challenges could be made to members, including the Law Member, with cause.
Robinson’s fate would be decided by nine men. Though seventy-five years later, identifying some of the members is difficult, but several are noteworthy.
Colonel Louis J. Compton
The court-martial President, COL Louis J. Compton, was the father of Julia Compton Moore, wife of Lieutenant General Hal Moore famed for leading 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment during the Battle of the Ia Drang in Vietnam.120
Major John H. Shippey
The Law Member, MAJ John H. Shippey, was the lone Army judge advocate at the court-martial. Though the government likely comprised fully-licensed attorneys, and the defense team certainly did, Shippey was the only member of the court trained in military justice. He graduated from the Judge Advocate General’s School’s first class after it commenced instruction at the University of Michigan Law School in 1943.121
Major Charles O. Mowder
Major Charles O. Mowder, another member, was a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles—the University that Robinson himself attended and made himself known nationally, but ultimately did not graduate from.122 Major Mowder, though, graduated UCLA in 1934, years before Robinson attended.
Captain Thomas M. Campbell
Captain Thomas M. Campbell, a medical doctor—one of two African-American members who would help decide Robinson’s fate—was a 1941 graduate of Meharry Medical College and was the battalion surgeon for the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, a Colored unit.123 His medical expertise would come up during the court-martial.
Second Lieutenant William A. Cline and First Lieutenant Robert H. Johnson
The task of defending Jackie Robinson fell to two men.124 Robinson’s appointed defense counsel listed on the convening order was 2LT William A. Cline, a 34-year-old from Wharton, Texas.125 Due to his ingrained Southern heritage, 2LT Cline was candidly unsure if he could provide Robinson effective counsel in defending against charges with strong racial undertones. Moreover, Cline later remembered telling Robinson that he “had little trial experience.” In fact, Jackie Robinson’s court-martial would be his first adversarial proceeding.126 In his autobiography, Robinson remembers, “my first big break was that the legal officer assigned to defend me was a Southerner [Cline] who had the decency to admit to me he didn’t think he could be objective. He recommended to me a young Michigan officer who did a great job on my behalf.”127 That Michigan officer was 1LT Robert H. Johnson, a 32-year-old infantry officer and native of Bay City, Michigan, who, like Cline, was a practicing attorney before the war.128 Both Cline and Johnson were white officers in “Colored” Tank Destroyer Battalions. Being in sister battalions, they likely knew of each other as former practicing-attorneys-turned-Army-officers.129 Johnson would join Robinson’s defense team as Individual Counsel. The position of “Individual Counsel” allowed the accused to be “represented in his defense . . . by counsel of his own selection.”130 This could include a civilian attorney, but would not be paid for by the government.131 Individual Counsel was the precursor to the Individual Military Counsel under the UCMJ. Though the defense was a team, Johnson’s experience at courts-martial and zealous advocacy would be instrumental to Robinson’s acquittal.
United States vs. 2LT Jack R. Robinson, a trial by general court-martial, began at 1345 at Camp Hood on 2 August 1944, a mere twenty-six days after the incident that precipitated it.132 Preliminary matters such as the accused’s defense counsel selection, challenges to members (Robinson and his team made none), and swearing of the government and members were handled by the TJA and the President. Robinson was then arraigned on the two remaining charges. The record reflected that that the government did not make an opening statement. Though the record does not specifically mention that the defense made no opening statement, it is unlikely that one was made. The Manual for Courts-Martial allowed for the defense to make an opening “immediately following the [government’s] opening statement.”133 If the government made no opening at the outset of trial, the defense could make one only in “exceptional cases.”134
The first witness called by the government was, in fact, a defense witness. Second Lieutenant Howard B. Campbell, of Robinson’s new unit, Company C, 758th Tank Battalion was called to identify that the accused was in fact 2LT Jack R. Robinson.135 Campbell was asked if he knew the accused and if he was present in the courtroom. Campbell pointed to his friend and replied “yes, sir.”136 This process of identifying the accused at the very start of the government’s case-in-chief was the standard practice of the time.137 With many millions of men serving in uniform, a witness to identify that the accused at the defense table was the individual named in the charge sheet would have been necessary to prevent cases of mistaken identity.
The Government’s Case
The government’s first witness was CPT Gerald Bear.138 On direct examination, Bear relayed to the court the circumstances of how he met Robinson on the night of 6 July 1944, the general layout of the two adjoining rooms with the Dutch door separating them, and which military members were present at the MP station.139 Bear testified that he had to order Robinson away from the door “on several occasions” as Bear was speaking to Wigginton, the MPs and PFC Mucklerath.140 He described Robinson complying with these orders by sarcastically bowing, and saluting him with his palms facing out in an exaggerated manner, and replying sarcastically “O.K., Sir. O.K., Sir. O.K., Sir.”141 Bear then described several other acts, like Robinson’s slow manner of walking and speech that he found “contemptuous and disrespectful.”142 The defense objected to this testimony as conclusory.143 The Law Member sustained the objection, but the tactic backfired as the TJA now had ample reason to go over in detail these acts that formed the basis of Bear’s belief that Robinson was disrespectful.144
Bear’s direct testimony would end with the issue that the defense would attack time and again in its case-in-chief: the manner and condition in which Robinson left the MP complex and returned to McCloskey Hospital.145 According to Bear, in the early hours of 7 July, Robinson argued with him about the need to return to McCloskey Hospital under police escort. Robinson had a pass and believed he was free to be released. On the stand, Bear claimed that he “heard enough” of this argument and threatened to “lock [Robinson] up” if he did not return with the MPs.146
At the outset of cross-examination, the defense—led by 1LT Johnson—hoped to present Bear as out of control and argumentative. He began by exploring a statement that Bear made on direct, that he had “lost control of the lieutenant.”147 Johnson fended off a government objection that the question was not material to the charged offenses and elicited testimony on the heated manner in which Bear and Robinson would interact while Robinson was trying to take a statement to the stenographer present on 6 July.148 The defense made headway by presenting Bear’s complaints that Robinson was speaking too quickly for the stenographer as trivial and routine, considering that Bear had experienced such conduct from other individuals giving statements in his experience as an MP.
The defense next questioned Bear on the conditions of Robinson’s return to the hospital in the early morning hours of 7 July under MP escort.149 Demonstrating heavy-handed action by Bear in releasing Robinson under escort would be a theme throughout the court-martial. In an unusual twist, the defense’s resistance to this line of questioning did not come from the government, but from a member of the court. Lieutenant Colonel Perman, who likely was also an attorney at some point in his career, objected to questioning along these lines as outside the scope of the charged offenses and outside the scope of the direct examination.150 The defense countered that the line of questioning responded to Bear’s direct testimony that the accused was unwilling to obey the order to return to the hospital. Major Shippey, the Law Member, overruled LTC Perman’s objection. After some back-peddling on Bear’s part over the nature of his order, the defense finally triumphed when Bear testified that he had placed Robinson in “arrest in quarters.”151 Bear’s heavy-handed action was now in evidence.152
The defense scored another quick victory by impeaching Bear. He testified that his sworn statement of 7 July indicated that he put Robinson “at ease” in the waiting room of the MP station while he took other witness statements.153 This contradicted the testimony he had given moments earlier under direct.
The latter half of the defense’s cross-examination of Bear demonstrated its attempts to bring out, through Bear’s testimony, Robinson’s racially-charged experience on the bus and at the bus station. The defense, knowing that Robinson’s sworn statement had been brought up during direct, attempted to elicit the facts contained within the sworn statement through Bear.154 After this approach was objected to by court-martial member LTC Perman, the defense reasoned: “I am attempting to bring out whether or not there was an atmosphere [in the interview room], the background of this whole case should be before this court.”155 The objection was sustained.156 The bus incident would not come to light through this witness.
On a brief redirect and recross, seeking to gain clarification as to Bear’s order to Robinson to remain “at ease,” the members had an opportunity to ask questions of the witness.157 Two members, CPT Moore and CPT Spencer, questioned the compulsory nature of the transportation that Bear had arranged to take Robinson back to McCloskey Hospital. Bear responded reasonably, that “at that hour of the morning busses were not running on a regular schedule” and more to the point just “wanted him to go.”158 At this point, CPT James H. Carr, himself African-American, and undoubtedly Robinson’s greatest champion among the members, took a turn to get answers from Bear.159 He asked Bear point-blank, “Was he [Robinson] under arrest,” to which Bear replied, “Yes, sir.”160 Carr would follow up two questions later with: “You wanted to make sure to send him where you wanted him to go, so you arrested him?”161 Bear equivocated. “Yes, we call it arrest in quarters.”162
Major Mowder, the UCLA graduate, would squeeze out of Bear the fact that Robinson had no choice but to return the hospital with the escorts. “If busses had been available, would you have let him go back by himself?”163 To which Bear would reply that he would not have released Robinson on his own.164 He specifically ordered him back to the hospital.165 Captain Carr then made the statement (that was perfunctorily styled as a question by the court-reporter) that “arrest in quarters can carry no bodily restrictions.”166 After Bear admitted that he considered him in that status, Carr ended with “you admit that you sent three M.P.’s [sic] to see that he got back to where you decided to send him?”167 Captain Carr had highlighted Bear’s overzealous enforcement of the matter.
Turning to the topic of what Bear intended when he put Robinson “at ease,” CPT Carr launched a string of salient inquires during another round of questions. When Bear gave him an evasive answer, Carr bluntly stated, “I want the question answered; was he at ease while he was leaning on the gate . . . ?”168 Bear equivocated more before Carr got to the heart of the matter and said, “I do not see that the manner in which he leaned on the gate had anything to do with you, if you had not given him an order commanding him to attention . . . .”169
Captain Campbell, the African-American physician, honed in on Bear’s description of Robinson’s supposed disrespectful, rolling walk.170 No doubt, attempting to ascertain whether there was something medically amiss with his gait, CPT Campbell asked the Law Member if they could see a demonstration of Robinson walking.171 Major Shippey wisely objected, saying that the defense could present it at a later time if Robinson and his attorneys desired.172
The cross-examination of CPT Bear ended with an attempt at impeachment by 1LT Johnson, the Individual Counsel. “Captain, is it true the Hospital called you the next day and asked if Lt. Robinson was supposed to be in arrest in quarters and you answered, “no?”173 The question was objected to by the TJA and sustained.174 But, it was too late. The defense strategy to show that Bear was a petty authoritarian had worked perfectly. Most of the tough questions at the court-martial were asked by the two African-American court-martial members of the government’s primary white witness.
The government’s second and final witness in its case-in-chief was CPT Wigginton, the camp laundry officer who served as the officer of the day on 6 and 7 July.175 His direct examination was remarkable only in that he testified in a minutes-long narrative relaying the events of 7 July.176 His testimony largely mirrored that of Bear’s: Robinson continually interrupted Wigginton’s briefing to Bear and would not sit in the chair in the waiting room, as directed by Bear. He corroborated the earlier testimony by Bear that Robinson rendered sloppy salutes and bowed to him at the Dutch door.177
On cross-examination, Wigginton’s responses proved unhelpful to the defense and highlighted the defense’s biggest courtroom weakness: they violated the old litigation maxim to never ask a question on cross-examination that the attorney does not know the answer to.178 The defense counsel’s attempt to pick apart Wigginton’s story or to establish his own personal bias was unsuccessful. Again, due to a government objection that the bus station incident was unrelated to the charged offenses, the defense was unable to bring about any evidence of the bus or bus station incident.179
Though inartful, the defense had sufficiently signaled that there was more than what was being presented at court-martial. Captain Carr picked up on the defense’s signals that there was more than meets the eye and the members were not being told the full story and was the lone court-martial member to ask CPT Wigginton questions. Carr comprehended that something had happened to put Robinson into an aggravated state in the MP station and because he was not provided the opportunity to explain himself in his own voice to Bear, he reacted in a negative manner.180
The Defense’s Case
The defense of 2LT Robinson began with its most powerful voice: the accused’s. After being advised of his rights by the Law Member, including the right to remain silent, and being sworn in by the TJA, Robinson took the stand in his defense.181 In the opening moments of Robinson’s direct testimony, while Robinson was reciting some biographical information about himself, and again during his explanation on the night of 6 July, the defense counsel wisely asked him to slow his speech.182 This was a wise ploy if done intentionally, because it illustrated Robinson had a quick manner of speech, something Ms. Wilson, the stenographer on duty the night of 6 July, and CPT Bear thought was an intentional act of disobedience.
On direct, Robinson explained his side of the events on the evening of 6-7 July. He was extremely cautious not to bring up the incidents on the bus or at the bus station, likely because it would have drawn a sustainable relevance objection.183 Instead, his story began with the vague explanation that he arrived at the MP station “on some matters.”184 Robinson explained briefly his initial report to Wigginton, the officer of the day, and stated that he was present when Mucklerath gave his version of the incident at the bus station. On direct, Robinson stated that while Mucklerath was relating events to Wigginton, he would interrupt Mucklerath to “refresh his memory and correct his statement.”185 He explained that upon Bear’s arrival some time later, he became frustrated that Mucklerath was being interviewed first. When Robinson asked why, he was told by Bear that Mucklerath was a “witness” to Robinson’s actions and that he was not to come into the interview room until told to do so.186
Finally, in the middle of his direct examination, Robinson was able to put forward the precipitating event that led to the charges. At last, he could explain that he was the victim of the ugly racial animus of the era. In correcting Mucklerath’s story, Robinson stated that he did not threaten Mucklerath for no reason.187 He then related that Mucklerath had called him a “n-----” while he was sitting in the MP vehicle while waiting to be transported to the MP station. Robinson freely admitted under oath that he told Mucklerath that if he ever called him a n----- again “he would break him in two.”188
What came next—the question by defense counsel and the response given—is arguably the most poetic response ever captured in a U.S. military court-martial.189
Q - Let me interrupt you, Lieutenant—do you know what a n----- is?
A - I looked it up once, but my Grandmother gave me a good definition, she was a slave, and she said the definition of the word was a low, uncouth person and pertains to no one in particular; but I don‘t consider that I am low and uncouth. I looked it up in the dictionary afterwards and it says the word n----- pertains to the negroid or negro, but it is also a machine used in a saw mill for pushing logs into the saws. I objected to being called a n----- by this private or by anybody else. When I made this statement that I did not like to be called n-----, I told the Captain, I said, “If you call me a n-----, I might have to say the same thing to you, I don’t mean to incriminate anybody, but I just don’t like it.’ I do not consider myself a n----- at all, I am a negro, but not a n-----.”190
This question and Robinson’s answer could not have been prepared prior to court-martial, given the limited interactions Robinson had with his defense. Robinson’s response was extemporaneous and captures the mindset of this future American icon.
Following this explanation to the court, the defense dove into the details of Robinson’s version of events. Robinson claimed with respect to the charge of disrespectful behavior that he “did not recall” bowing and executing the so-called sloppy salutes that Bear and Wigginton claimed he gave them.191 To the charge of failing to obey Bear’s order to move away from the doorway and to sit in a chair in the opposite room, Robinson explained that he complied with Bear’s order to get away from the door, but that Bear did not give an order to sit in a chair.192 He claimed to have interrupted Bear and Mucklerath just one time the entire evening.193
Robinson also returned to his confrontation with the civilian stenographer that evening, Ms. Wilson. Robinson stated that after demonstrating he disagreed with her dictation, her racial animus became manifest when she “picked up her purse and said ‘I don’t have to make excuses to him’ and went out.”194
Finally, at the end of Robinson’s direct, parts of the story regarding the bus station incident trickled out in front of the court-martial members. Robinson was asked by his defense team about his conversation with his Battalion Executive Officer, MAJ Charles Wingo, on the phone at about the time he was being released by Bear. Robinson related to the members that he explained to Wingo he believed that the reasons Bear did not want him taking a bus back was because he would “get in trouble in the busses.”195 Robinson, without pause, and perhaps to put forth as much of his story before the members as he could before drawing an objection, immediately relayed a piece of what happened on the bus. “I abided by the Texas Law [on the way to Camp Hood], but I knew there was no Jim Crow rule on the Post and the bus driver had tried to make me move to the rear, and I told him that I would not move back.”196 The defense, seeing on opportunity to expand the narrative quickly, followed up by asking what his seating position on the bus had been. Robinson followed this lead and quickly answered “four seats from the rear . . . a little better than half way [from the back].” The prosecution, mindful that the bus incident was a liability to their case, quickly attempted to end the matter by objecting to the line of testimony, stating that it “had nothing to do with this specification” and that “what happened on the bus . . . had no place in this case.”197 The Law Member agreed and sustained the objections, claiming that he did not see the materiality of it.198
Robinson’s direct examination was followed by the prosecution’s cross-examination. The TJA, cognizant of the testimony that Robinson had brought forward evidence that PFC Mucklerath had called him a “n-----,” attempted to staunch the bleeding. Fortunately for Robinson, the TJA trial team, who appeared to have been more experienced in the courtroom than his own attorneys, botched their objective. After setting the scene at the MP station, the trial team attempted to make Robinson appear less than credible by calling into question why no one else had heard him being called “n-----.”199 Playing with fire, the TJA asked Robinson again if Mucklerath called him a n-----, to which Robinson answered in the affirmative.200 The TJA, back on his heels, quickly followed up by confirming that the insult did not occur at the MP station with any witnesses who had testified thus far in order to illustrate that there were no witness to the insult.201 The TJA then made a series of mistakes by breaking two basic tenets of cross-examination: he began asking open-ended questions that he did not know the answers to. Certain that Robinson was not insulted at the MP station, he asked him if anyone insulted him there, to which Robinson replied that CPT Bear did.202 The TJA quickly established that Bear, the government’s main witness himself did not call Robinson a n-----. The TJA asked whether Bear had provoked him in any way that evening, to which Robinson replied that Bear had indeed done so.203 Inexplicably, the TJA asked to explain “in what way” Bear had done so, an open question that Robinson then used to illustrate Bear’s anger when issuing him the order not to interrupt him during the Mucklerath interview.204 The TJA then spent the next few minutes establishing through Robinson that Bear had a proper purpose in questioning Mucklerath individually without interruption.205
The TJA, concerned that Robinson had impeached Wigginton on direct, turned the court’s attention to the conduct of the officer of the day for 6 July. The TJA asked Robinson if he believed that Wigginton had lied on the stand minutes earlier when he testified about witnessing Robinson bowing and saluting.206 Robinson, hesitant at first to call a fellow officer a liar, stated that he did.207 The TJA then listed every officer Robinson had interacted with that night and asked him if they had insulted him or had bias against him which Robinson replied that they had not.208
The rest of the cross-examination was more routine. Robinson withstood the TJA’s scrutiny of his side of the events that evening. The TJA, concerned that Robinson’s interactions with the stenographer had showed her racial bias, asked him to read aloud an excerpt from the Manual for Courts-Martial.209 This attempted to demonstrate that Robinson slowed his speech in a facetious way when asked by the stenographer to slow down. The cross-examination ended with Robinson again being given another chance to explain his exit from the MP station under arrest to no benefit to the government.210
Robinson’s testimony was over. He had conducted himself well on the stand under both direct and cross-examination. His answers were respectful and poised. He never contradicted himself nor allowed his emotions to get the better of him.
The remainder of Robinson’s defense would come in the form of the “good Soldier defense.” This form of defense allows Soldiers to introduce evidence of the good military character through testimony in an attempt to distinguish the Soldier from the charged offense.211 In other words, a “good” Soldier would not commit the charged offense. The 1943 MCM contained these instructions: “The accused may introduce evidence of his own good character, including evidence of his military record and standing in order to show the probability of his innocence.”212
The defense called four character witnesses: LTC Paul Bates,213 his former battalion Commander in the 761st Tank Battalion; CPT James R. Lawson, a white officer214 and his former company commander in B Company, 761st Tank Battalion; and two fellow lieutenants, including 2LT Harold Kingsley and 2LT Howard Campbell, who had previously been the government’s identifying witness in its case-in-chief. Each were asked a few basic questions in a classic good Soldier defense fashion. Whether they knew the accused, how long they had known him, whether they knew his reputation, and whether he had a good reputation at his “Camp, Post, or Station.” This would culminate in two questions about his abilities as a Soldier and, in the case of his former commanders, Bates and Lawson, whether they would like to have him as a member of their command. All four witnesses reported that he had a good reputation and that he had excellent abilities as a Soldier. In the case of Bates, he was asked how he would rate him on a “66-1.” Known as a fitness report, this was the Officer Evaluation Report of its time. Bates replied that he would rate him as “Excellent.”215
The government did not cross-examine a single defense character witness. Though they did object when LTC Bates brought forward that Robinson was a “well known athlete” as unresponsive.216 Though three of the four witnesses had known Robinson for only a few months, the evidence brought out through these witnesses was clear: Robinson’s character was such that he was not the kind of officer to disobey an order or to be disrespectful. With that, the defense of Robinson rested. However, it would be in the government’s rebuttal that the standout moment of the court-martial would come.
In rebuttal, the government called 1LT George Cribari, a Medical Service Corps doctor, to rebut Robinson’s testimony that CPT Bear showed animosity to Robinson. First Lieutenant Cribari did rebut this testimony and countered that it had been Robinson himself who was “very rude.”217 In a dry moment of testimony, Cribari demonstrated for the record Robinson’s body language for the court.218 Major Shippey, the Law Member, would then read these movements into the record such as “you shook your head from side to side” and “you put your hand in your pocket.”219 Upon cross-examination, Robinson’s defense pursued a few short, unhelpful lines of questioning on Robinson’s slowed pace of speech to the stenographer. Court-martial member CPT James Carr rose yet again to pointedly question a witness in the government’s case. Carr questioned why Cribari felt putting one’s hands in their pocket was disrespectful and what Cribari meant when he testified that Robinson “grimaced” at Bear. Cribari, dryly, gave a very technical response: “grimacing is done by the muscles of the face.”220 In one of the fleeting moments of mirth in the court-martial, Carr then himself contorted his face and asked Cribari if he was grimacing.221
Next, the TJA called CPL George Elwood, the MP who met Robinson at the Central Bus Station and accompanied him (and Mucklerath) back to the MP station. Corporal Elwood was called to rebut Robinson’s testimony that he was not given an order to sit in a reception room chair.222 He also rebutted Robinson’s denial that he bowed and gave the contested, so-called sloppy salutes.223 Corporal Elwood’s direct came off as passionless and reasonable, and was limited to his observations of Robinson—not how Elwood construed his tone or mannerisms, as with the previous witnesses. Corporal Elwood’s cross-examination by the defense illustrated no personal bias. He was a brief and persuasive witness for the government.
Expecting to end rebuttal with a third witness to contradict Robinson’s testimony, the government made a spectacular error. They called to the stand PFC Ben Mucklerath, the Soldier whom Robinson accused of calling him a “n-----.” On the stand the government asked only one substantive question: “Did you call [Robinson] a n-----?”224 Mucklerath quickly answered, “No, sir.”225
The defense’s cross-examination of Mucklerath was the climactic moment of the court-martial. The defense first asked him if he remembered Robinson saying that if he “ever called him a n----- again he would break [Mucklerath] in two?”226 Mucklerath responded that he did remember Robinson make that statement. The defense then asked Mucklerath why Robinson would make that statement considering Mucklerath had explicitly not called him the epithet. Mucklerath stammered that he did not know what Robinson was thinking and that Mucklerath was merely “repeating something” that he had heard.”227 The defense posed two final questions:
Q - Do you deny that you went to the MP [CPL Elwood] on the truck at the bus station and said “Do you have the n----- lieutenant in the car”; do you deny that you made that statement?
A - At no time did I use the word “n-----.”
Q - You deny that you made that statement?
A - I never used the word “n-----” at any time, sir.228
With that, the government rested its rebuttal case. The trap was set.
Immediately, the defense recalled CPL Elwood in sur-rebuttal. The defense asked Elwood only one substantive question that would prove devastating: “Did [PFC Mucklerath] ever ask you at any time if you had a n----- lieutenant in your car?”229 Elwood, ever the bias-free witness, answered: “Yes, sir, he did at the bus station.”230 The defense rested, having proven the incident at the MP station was predicated on the use of a slur by an enlisted Soldier upon an officer. Only in the final moments of the court-martial did 2LT Robinson’s later indignant demeanor and frustration at the MP station make sense to the members. Both sides rested after the huge revelation that not only was Robinson called a racial slur, but that one of the government’s own witnesses against him would so easily lie under oath.
After the presentation of evidence, both sides made closing arguments. Closing arguments were not and are still not considered evidence. As such, the court reporter did not transcribe what was said.231 As a result, these arguments are lost to time, although Robinson recalled: “My lawyer [Johnson] summed up the case beautifully by telling the board that this was not a case involving any violation of the Articles of War, or even of military tradition, but simply a situation in which a few individuals sought to vent their bigotry on a Negro they considered ‘uppity’ because he had the audacity to exercise rights that belonged to him as an American and a Soldier.”232
Also unknown is the length of deliberations on guilt or innocence. Given the relatively short length of the entire procedure, likely the members did not deliberate long. Because the ballots were secret, the number of members who voted guilty and not guilty will forever be unknown. However, the results of the court-martial are certainly known. At 1800, 2LT Jack R. Robinson and his defense counsel rose to hear the verdict of the nine members of the court.233 Colonel Compton, the court-martial President, read aloud the verdict. “Upon secret written ballot, two-thirds of the members present at the time the vote was taken . . . finds the accused of all specifications and charges: Not guilty and therefore acquit the accused.”234 United States v. 2LT Jack R. Robinson was over.
A Career Ends and Another Begins
Despite the acquittal, the close of the court-martial ultimately brought with it the end of 2LT Robinson’s military career. Aggrieved by his treatment by the Army, Robinson remembered in his 1972 autobiography that following his court-martial, “I was pretty much fed up with the service.”235 Even before the court-martial, Robinson knew that because of his Army retiring board finding of the week before the court-martial on 21 July, he could not ship overseas with the 761st Tank Battalion. Robinson wrote the Army Adjutant General on 25 August and requested to be retired from the service due to his medical issues.236 Weeks later, Robinson reported to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, for several months, serving as a morale officer before receiving his honorable discharge “by reason of physical disqualification.”237 The irony that a future hall of famer and Rookie of the Year was physically disqualified from the Army before his entry into professional baseball should not be lost on anyone.
In August 1945, one year after his acquittal, Robinson’s famed meeting with Branch Rickey would occur at Rickey’s office in downtown Brooklyn.238 Rickey was the President and General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and offered Robinson the opportunity in this meeting to become the first African-American player to break the Major League baseball color barrier.239 Rickey would explain that he had searched extensively for the right player to endure the inevitable hardships that would accompany the first African-American player to break the barrier.240 Rickey told him that he was looking for a principled and restrained player with “guts,” but the courage “not to fight back” and lash out.241
Given the exhaustive research into Robinson’s background that Rickey conducted, he must have known about his court-martial and the acquittal twelve months earlier. The court-martial, reported on by the national African-American press, would have reached Rickey’s ears. This major life event, in which Robinson stood firm against prejudiced opposition and faith in the system to run its course, knowing that it would prove his innocence, was likely a significant factor in Rickey’s selection. TAL
* The title comes from a letter Jackie Robinson wrote in the weeks before the court-martial. Letter from Jackie Robinson to Truman K. Gibson (July 16, 1944), in John Vernon, Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson, Prologue Magazine, Spring 2008. Writing for advice to Truman K. Gibson, an influential African-American working as an assistant to the Secretary of War, he lay bare his feelings. “I don’t mind trouble but I do believe in fair play and justice. I feel that I’m being taken in this case and will tell people about it unless the trial is fair.” Id. An entire record of trial for this court-martial is available on the history pages on the JAGCNet website.
1. United States v. Robinson (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944). The temperature in nearby Waco, Texas, on 2 August 1944 reached 103 degrees. Waco, TX Weather History, Weather Underground, https://www.wunderground.com/history/daily/us/tx/waco/KACT/date/1944-8-2 (last visited Jan. 13, 2020).
2. The record of trial notes that the court met at “1:45 o’clock P.M.” and adjourned until its next court-martial at “6:00 o’clock P.M.” United States v. Robinson at 2, 80 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
3. Ranges of the number of U.S. military courts-martial convened during World War II (WWII) vary, but almost all accounts identify the number in the low millions. Cf. Randy James, A Brief History of the Court-Martial, Time (Nov. 18, 2009) (more than 2 million) with Colonel Rodger A. Drew Jr., A Day in the Life of an Appellate Military Judge, Judges’ J., May 2017 https://www.americanbar.org/groups/judicial/publications/judges_journal/2017/spring/a_day_in_the_life_of_an_appellate_military_judge/ (1.7 million).
4. The court-martial of Second Lieutenant (2LT) Jack R. Robinson has found its way into several storytelling mediums, proof that its enduring theme of personal dignity, determination, and justice are of interest to the American public. The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson was a 1990 made-for-TV movie that took enormous liberties with facts in order to tell an entertaining story. The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson (Turner Pictures 1990). A children’s book, intended for 4- to 8-year-old-readers, was recently published. Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, The United States v. Jackie Robinson (2018).
5. Two comprehensive Robinson biographies, detailing his remarkable life, were published close in time in the 1990s. See Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson: A Biography (1997); David Falkner, Great Time Coming (1995).
6. Jackie Robinson scholar Jules Tygiel named his 1996 book on Jackie Robinson’s career Baseball’s Great Experiment. Jules Tygiel, Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1996).
7. The first notable piece chronicling the court-martial was published in 1984. See Jules Tygiel, The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson, Am. Heritage, Aug.-Sept. 1984. Another important journalistic endeavor was published in 2008. See John Vernon, Jim Crow, Meet Lieutenant Robinson, Prologue Magazine, Spring 2008.
8. Jackie Robinson’s military records are catalogued online in the National Archives Catalog. Official Military Personnel File for Jack Roosevelt Robinson, Nat’l Archives Catalog, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/57308498 (last visited Jan. 13, 2020) [hereinafter Robinson Military Records]. Each of the 371 documents that make up his record are assigned a number.
9. Robinson was inducted in the Army on 3 April 1942. United States v. Robinson at 43 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944). He commissioned on 28 January 1943. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 41.
10. Falkner, supra note 5, at 70.
11. Robinson penned several autobiographies during his life. His final effort, I Never Had It Made, published in 1972, contains the most insight into both his life and his court-martial. See Jackie Robinson, I Never Had it Made: An Autobiography of Jack Robinson 17 (1992).
12. See generally, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar & Anthony Walton, Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes 28-29 (2004).
13. Second Lieutenant Robinson was assigned to the 761st Tank Battalion from 3 April 1944 to 6 July 1944. United States v. Robinson at 61 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
14. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 333.
16. Rampersad, supra note 5, at 101.
17. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 30.
18. Robinson, supra note 11, at 18.
19. Id. at 20.
20. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 234.
21. The shuttle bus operated by the Southwestern Bus Company transported Soldiers and civilians across the sprawling installation. Id. at 225.
22. Id. at 233.
24. Id. at 240. Ms. Jones recalled that she and Robinson sat in the fourth seat from the rear of the bus. Id. at 233.
25. Id. at 240.
28. See Elizabeth Guffey, Knowing Their Space: Signs of Jim Crow in the Segregated South, Design Issues, Spring 2012, at 41, 45.
29. Rampersad, supra note 5, at 102.
33. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 240.
34. Id. at 234.
35. Id. at 225, 234, 235.
36. Ms. Elizabeth Poitevint, a white passenger, accosted Robinson after getting off the bus and stated she was going to report him to the military police (MPs) because he should have moved to the back of the bus, but failed to obey. Id. at 226, 233.
37. Corporal (CPL) George Elwood, an MP, was dispatched to the Central Bus Station “to investigate a disturbance.” Id. at 235.
39. Id. at 235. Private First Class (PFC) Mucklerath claims that he simply asked CPL Elwood if he had a “colored Lt” in the patrol car. Id. at 224.
40. Robinson’s sworn statement was taken in the early morning hours of 7 July by a white, female, civilian stenographer known only as “Ms. Wilson.” Robinson, supra note 11, at 19. She transcribed “in two” as “into.” Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 240. She repeated this grammatical mistake in Captain (CPT) Wigginton’s statement. Id. at 221.
41. Id. at 235.
43. Id. at 221.
46. Id. After being silenced by Wigginton, Robinson remarked: “So this is democracy, I don’t stand a chance.” Id. at 222.
48. United States v. Robinson at 44 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
49. Id. In his own sworn statement concerning the events of 7 July and again at court-martial, Bear would state that he and Robinson were already in the building when he arrived. See Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 220; United States v. Robinson at 8 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
50. United States v. Robinson at 44, 45 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
51. Id. at 32.
52. Id. at 44. Robinson was likely frustrated and felt disrespected because he was not being interviewed prior to a white Private who had just called him a racially charged epithet.
53. Id. at 9-10.
54. Id. at 9.
55. Robinson, supra note 11, at 19.
56. United States v. Robinson at 36 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944). Robinson was also asked to slow his speech twice early in his testimony. Id. at 43-44.
57. The return of Robinson that night would be among the most hotly contested issues of the court-martial. Id. at 27-30.
58. Id. at 30.
59. Bear’s investigation survives as the accompanying documents in Major (MAJ) Daugherty’s Article 70 Investigation. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 219-37.
60. Robinson would call this behavior “southern chivalry.” Robinson, supra note 11, at 19.
61. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 234.
62. Id. at 225.
63. Id. at 226.
64. Id. at 229, 230, 231, 235, 236, 237.
65. Id. at 235, 237.
66. While taking Robinson’s statement that evening, CPT Bear himself told Robinson that he considered the word “vulgar and vile.” Id. at 222.
67. Id. at 224.
68. Id. at 235. Corporal Elwood also mentions in his sworn statement that Ms. Poitevint also called Robinson a “n——-” to his face. Id.
69. United States v. Robinson at 77-78 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
70. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 233.
71. Id. at 219.
73. Id. at 233. As the later charges did not include Robinson’s conduct at the bus station, Ms. Jones did not testify for the defense at the court-martial.
75. Id. at 240.
76. See Vernon, supra note 7.
77. Rampersad, supra note 5, at 92.
79. See Vernon, supra note 7.
80. Id. Notes from Robinson’s military records displays national interest in his case. An 17 August 1944 internal War Department memo highlights the interest of Senator Sheridan Downey of Robinson’s home state of California in the court-martial. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 82. Also, a 15 August 1944 radioed request for information marked “Urgent” from the Army’s Adjutant General to the Commanding General of Fort Hood. Id. at 78. It starts:
Two letters have been received in this office stating that Jackie Robinson is awaiting trial by court-martial at Camp Hood. Letters also refer to [enlisted member (EM)] as Jackie Robinson REPEAT Robinson and state that EM is Negro football star alumnus of U of CLA of excellent family and reputation. Letters request that consideration be given his case. Id.
This interest in the court-martial was likely without influence as these inquires came about after the court-martial was over for some weeks.
81. See Vernon, supra note 7.
84. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 212.
88. Id. This last specification of Charge III was lined out on the initial charge sheet and was subsequently not investigated by MAJ Daugherty, the Article of War 70 investigating officer.
89. Id. at 211.
90. Manual for Courts-Martial, United States Article of War 69 (1943) [hereinafter 1943 MCM].
91. Id. As only males served in the Army at the time of the drafting of the Manual for Courts-Martial, it only used male pronouns.
92. Robinson claims in his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made, to have traveled to San Francisco to see his fiancée and later wife Rachel Isum during the period between the 6 July incident and the court-martial on 2 August. Robinson, supra note 11, at 20-21. Given the nature of his restriction to McCloskey Hospital on 17 July, he could not have left absent permission from a commander, which would have been unlikely. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 211. The only possible time that he could have returned to California is between 7 July and 16 August when he wrote his letter from the hospital to Truman Gibson. See Vernon, supra note 7. Given the distance and modes of transportation of the day, it seems unlikely that he would have returned home between the incident and his formal charging on 17 July. More likely than not, Robinson, writing twenty-eight years later, misremembered the timeline of this visit.
93. The 5th Armored Group commanded the Army’s three African-American tank battalions. Designated to tank battalion training prior to being sent to the European Theater, the Headquarters, 5th Armored Group would not deploy overseas. See generally, David J. Williams, Hit Hard (1983). Williams, the commander of A Company, provides great background on the 761st Tank Battalion from a commander’s perspective on race, training, and the war in Europe. Unfortunately, on the subject of the 6-7 July incident at the MP station, Williams does not let the truth get in the way of a good story. He states that he was present that night and witnessed Robinson being brought out of the MP station handcuffed and in leg shackles. Id. at 126. Williams also never knew that the matter went to court-martial, believing that Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Bates had the case “thrown out.” Id. at 127.
94. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 210.
95. United States v. Robinson at 5 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
96. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 210.
102. 1943 MCM, supra note 90, art. 70.
103. Later at his court-martial, it became evident that Robinson was not represented at his Article 70 hearing. United States v. Robinson, at 46 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944). He stated during direct testimony that he asked “the Lieutenant,” likely Cline, to subpoena the investigating officer’s notes to prove a discrepancy between Wigginton’s sworn statement and his trial testimony. Id. Likely he told his attorney this because he attended the hearing alone without representation.
104. United States v. Robinson at GCM Appointment (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
105. Daugherty did not investigate or make a recommendation on Charge III, Specification III, “obscene and abusive language . . . in the presence of ladies” as it had been eliminated by placing an “X” in ink pen across the specification prior to preferral. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 212.
106. This would be evident during the court-martial when Robinson would reference Wigginton and Daugherty’s Article 70 testimony during his direct examination. United States v. Robinson at 46 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
107. The investigating officer’s report was a boilerplate form known as WD AGO Form 120. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 216-17. Designed to minimize the effort of the investigating officer, it also had the effect of limiting any insight into their analysis of the charges, becoming a go or no-go report of their investigation.
108. The instruction in the 1943 MCM allowed an investigating officer to make “notations on the charge sheet” which Daugherty did by lining out three of the five remaining specifications. 1943 MCM, supra note 90, at 26.
109. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 216.
111. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 238.
112. The position of military judge would not come about until 1969. Manual for Courts-Martial, United States (1969). From 1951 to 1969 the position was known as the “law officer.” Manual for Courts-Martial, United States (1951).
113. 1943 MCM, supra note 90, at 28.
114. Id. app. 1, 205.
115. Id. at 29.
117. Id. app. 1, 204. The term “panel” would not become part of the parlance until a few years later in 1949. Manual for Courts-Martial, United States (1949).
118. Id. app. 1, 204.
119. Id. app. 1, 205.
120. See Julia Compton Moore, Ledger-Enquirer (Apr. 21, 2004), https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/ledger-enquirer/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=2155032. The court-martial of Jackie Robison is not the only noteworthy court-martial Colonel Compton would serve on during the war. He would later serve on the 1945 military commission of four German civilians who killed a distressed U.S. Airman who parachuted to safety over Germany. U.S. Army Justice Falls on Germans, Life Mag., July 16, 1945, at 17.
121. Documents on the short life of John Shippey can be found online. See Obituaries, etc. – Shippey, John Hall, 1911–1950, Shippey.info, http://shippey.info/documents/o10975.html (last visited Jan. 17, 2020). Major Shippey is listed as graduating from the Judge Advocate General’s School as a member of the Fifth Judge Advocate’s Course. Graduation Exercises: Fifth Class, Judge Advocate General’s School (Nov. 21, 1942), http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/Scrapbooks/pdf/P-3-booklet.pdf. This was the first course that graduated in Ann Arbor since the classroom and office space was leased by the Judge Advocate General’s Corps at the University of Michigan Law School after moving there 1942 from Washington, D.C. Colonel Richard D. Rosen, The Judge Advocate General’s School, U.S. Army: 50 Years in Charlottesville, Mil. L., Dec. 2001, at 14, https://www.vsb.org/docs/valawyermagazine/dec01rosen.pdf.
122. Major Mowder attended UCLA, graduating and commissioning in 1934. Univ. of Cal., Southern Campus 102 (1920), https://archive.org/stream/southerncampus1933univ/southerncampus1933univ_djvu.txt. Mowder would later take part in the invasion of Okinawa. Lt. Col. Allerton Cushman, Tank Destroyers . . . Against Japan, Field Artillery J., Feb. 1946, at 70, 73, https://sill-www.army.mil/firesbulletin/archives/1946/FEB_1946/FEB_1946_FULL_EDITION.pdf.
123. Captain Campbell led an incredible life, being born, raised, and educated in and around the famed Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. See Services Conducted for Dr. Campbell, Tuskegee News, June 10, 1976, at 3. As the head of Pediatrics at John A. Andrew Hospital in Tuskegee, Alabama, he would retire as a Colonel in the Army Reserves in 1967. Id. Dr. Campbell’s brother William, a U.S. Army Air Force pilot, commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron during the war, one of the units most closely associated with the famed Tuskegee Airmen. See Charlie & Ann Cooper, Tuskegee’s Heroes 98 1996.
124. First Lieutenant Issac O. Hutcheson was the assistant defense counsel listed on the convening order. Robinson Military Records, supra note 8, at 2. First Lieutenant Hutcheson was excused by the appointing authority due to Robinson selecting 1LT Johnson as his Individual Counsel. Id.
125. Cline was a practicing attorney prior to WWII. See Barry Halvorson, Cline Celebrates 100th Birthday, Wharton J. Spectator (July 21, 2010), http://www.journal-spectator.com/life_and_leisure/article_3841f142-8693-5c00-a682-e02ecd781be4.html. His practice area before and after the war was in real estate. Id.
126. Second Lieutenant Cline would go on to serve as trial judge advocate and defense attorney at other courts-martial for the rest of the war, but would never deploy overseas. Id.
127. Robinson, supra note 11, at 22.
128. U.S. Dep’t of Def., WD AGO Form 53-98, Report of Separation from Service—Captain Robert H. Johnson’s (on file with author).
129. Cline likely recommended Johnson to Robinson to undertake his defense. First Lieutenant Johnson had some experience at courts-martial; as evident in his examination techniques and in the fact that Johnson undertook the duties of cross-examining the government’s lead witness CPT Bear. Johnson also likely crafted the so-called “good Soldier” defense on Robinson’s behalf.
130. 1943 MCM, supra note 90, at 34.
132. United States v. Robinson at 2 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
133. 1943 MCM, supra note 90, at 60.
135. Later, 2LT Campbell would be called as part of Robinson’s good Soldier defense. United States v. Robinson at 64 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944). He would state that he had known Robinson for “a year and four months.” Id. Given that Robinson transferred to Camp Hood in April 1944, this would likely mean that 2LT Campbell served with Robinson at Fort Riley as lieutenants and possibly as enlisted Soldiers.
136. United States v. Robinson at 7 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
137. The boilerplate court-martial script dictated that the very first prosecution witness identify the accused. Id. at 6.
138. While Mr. Herbert Reed, the civilian court reporter, did an admirable job considering that he was required to perform live transcription of the court-martial, he inexplicably spelled Bear’s name as “Baer” approximately half way through the court-martial transcript and stuck with this spelling for the remainder. Id. at 31.
139. United States v. Robinson at 8 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944). Bear’s testimony mentions CPT Wigginton and several enlisted MPs at the scene. Id. He included PFC Mucklerath, whom, as an infantry replacement training at Camp Hood, he would not have known prior to that evening.
140. United States v. Robinson at 9 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
141. Id. at 10.
142. Id. at 12.
144. Id. at 13.
145. Id. at 14.
147. Id. at 15.
148. Id. at 16.
149. Id. at 17.
150. Lieutenant Colonel Perman was a field artillery officer serving on active duty in 1927. Regimental Notes, Field Artillery J., Jan.-Feb. 1927, at 72, https://sill-www.army.mil/firesbulletin/archives/1927/JAN_FEB_1927/JAN_FEB_1927_FULL_EDITION.pdf. Any member of the court was permitted to object to questions by government, defense, or even another member. 1943 MCM, supra note 90, at 58. During the cross-examination of CPT Bear, LTC Perman made four objections to defense questions. By contrast, the prosecution made only one. Perman was often free with his legal advice, objecting at one point that the defense’s line of cross-examination questioning was outside the scope of direct and that the defense could “introduce the witness as a defense witness at a later time.” United States v. Robinson at 22 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
151. Id. at 30.
153. Id. at 21
154. Id. at 22.
156. Technically, the Law Member permitted the defense to limit questions about the interaction between Bear and Robinson during testimony regarding the taking of Robinson’s statements, not the subject matter. Id. at 22-23.
157. Though panel members today may submit written questions to the military judge subject to objections by government and defense counsel, court-martial members then were permitted to address questions directly to witnesses without filter. 1943 MCM, supra note 90, at 34.
158. United States v. Robinson at 25 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
159. This information is known due to a photograph of CPT Carr and his fellow commanders in England. See 614th TD Battalion, Tankdestroyer.net, https://www.tankdestroyer.net/units/unitphotogalleries/614th-td-battalion (last visited Jan. 14, 2020).
160. United States v. Robinson at 25 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
161. Id. at 26.
166. Id. at 30.
168. Id. at 26.
169. Id. at 27. The civilian court reporter at times generously ended the Trial Judge Advocates’, defense counsels’, and members’ statements with a question mark. United States v. Robinson (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
170. Id. at 29.
173. Id. at 30.
175. Id. at 30-41.
176. Id. at 31-33.
178. The defense also made a timeless, new trial advocate mistake when it objected to a response by 1LT Cribari, a response made during its own cross-examination of that witness. Id. at 68. After defense’s objection, the government, no doubt stupefied, quickly offered that “he asked for it.” Id.
179. Id. at 35.
180. Id. at 41.
181. Id. at 44.
183. Id. at 43.
185. Id. at 44.
187. Id. at 45.
190. Id. at 45
192. Id. at 47.
193. Id. at 48.
194. Id. at 50.
195. Id. at 51.
199. Id. at 52.
204. Id. at 52-53.
205. Id. at 53.
206. Id. at 54.
208. Id. at 54-55.
209. Id. at 58.
210. Id. at 58-60.
211. See generally Elizabeth Lutes Hillman, The “Good Soldier” Defense: Character Evidence and Military Rank at Courts-Martial, 108 Yale L. J. 879 (1999), https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=7983&context=ylj.
212. See 1943 MCM, supra note 90, Mil. R. Evid. 112 (opinion evidence).
213. The 761st Battalion Commander who would lead his Soldiers across Europe during the war was LTC Paul L. Bates, a 35-year-old former All-American football player and high school teacher. See Abdul-Jabbar & Walton, supra note 12, at 29. Lieutenant Colonel Bates was well-regarded by his men for treating them with dignity and respect, something far too few white officers did. Id.
214. Captain Lawson was a white officer, as depicted in a photograph of all the 761st company commanders enjoying dinner together in 1944 in England. Charles W. Sasser, Patton’s Panthers (2005).
215. United States v. Robinson at 62 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
216. Id. at 61.
217. Id. at 67.
220. Id. at 71.
222. Id. at 72.
223. Id. at 73.
224. Id. at 77.
229. Id. at 78.
231. The record merely states, “Closing arguments were made by the defense and prosecution.” Id.
232. See Tygiel, supra note 6.
233. Rampersad, supra note 5, at 109.
234. United States v. Robinson at 78 (Commanding General, XXIII Corps, Camp Hood, Texas, 2 August 1944).
235. Robinson, supra note 11, at 22.
236. Rampersad, supra note 5, at 110.
237. Id. at 111.
238. Id. at 125.
239. Robinson, supra note 11, at 32.
241. Id. at 34.