Imperialist (In)Justice: The Case of Sergeant Calloway

Battalion Sergeant-Major John W. Calloway, US Army, fought the Spaniards in Cuba, and then the Filipinos for two years, 1899-1900 – when an order was made in Manila that he be reduced in rank to private and discharged “without honor”. What was it that impelled the American colonial officials to rid themselves of this fine African-American non-commissioned officer who had served his country faithfully for ten years, and whose character had always been rated “excellent”, his “services eminently satisfactory”? Why was he dealt with through administrative procedures rather than a court-martial for the treason of which he was suspected?


Battalion Sergeant-Major John W. Calloway, US Army, fought the Spaniards in Cuba, and then the Filipinos for two years, 1899-1900 – when an order was made in Manila that he be reduced in rank to private and discharged “without honor”. What was it that impelled the American colonial officials to rid themselves of this fine African-American non-commissioned officer who had served his country faithfully for ten years, and whose character had always been rated “excellent”, his “services eminently satisfactory”? Why was he dealt with through administrative procedures rather than a court-martial for the treason of which he was suspected?

Calloway had become friendly with a number of Filipinos, as had many black soldiers who felt sympathy for people who were often treated as inferior and uncivilized. It was a familiar and deeply disturbing scenario, especially as the white Americans referred openly to Filipinos as “niggers” In the case of Calloway, it led to disaster. He had some education, a printer by trade, and was an astute, thoughtful man. He did an informal survey, interviewing Filipinos about their feelings toward the war and the occupying troops. In this process he learned a great deal about the real nature of the war, so different from the benevolent mission portrayed in the media at home (and in The Manila Times and the Manila Freedom, the jingoistic and imperialistic American-owned press.) The Sergeant wrote to an African-American newspaper in his hometown, the Richmond Planet, that the black soldiers were “between the devil and the deep sea” in regard to the war. They faced the dilemma of doing their duty for America where their people were repressed, while they were repressing the nationalist ambitions of a colored race which they found anything but uncivilized. And the concept of inferiority was, of course, anathema to him.

But Calloway went further. Having befriended the Consunji family of San Fernando, Pampanga in February 1900, he wrote to Tomas Consunji that he was “haunted by the feeling of how wrong, morally, we Americans are in the present affair with you. What a wrong to crush every hope and opportunity of a youth of a race… Would to God it lay in my power to rectify the committed error, and compensate the Filipino for the wrong done.” Calloway made other comments, some of which were along the lines that with the growth of education in the country they would gain their independence. He was obviously influenced by the conservative American black leader, Booker T Washington. None indicated an intention to assist the insurgents in any way.

Unfortunately for the Sergeant, the Consunjis, in particular the father Antonio, were under surveillance by US intelligence agents. They reported that the pair were “well known sympathizers with the insurrectos” and Tomas was said to have acted as a “political agent” for them. Perhaps this was particularly worrying to the Americans as they employed him in their own bureaucracy. Later, in justification of his friendship with the Consunjis, Calloway made the point that contact with him seemed appropriate. To no avail.

In October 1901, the Consunji house was raided and Calloway’s letter was discovered. As a result he was given a Court Martial. But strangely, he was charged with “breaches of discipline”. It was alleged that “being a married man” he had “lived in open adultery with a native woman”. Calloway was acquitted – the evidence did not support such a charge. A later official report indicates that “Mrs. Calloway is now in Manila, and apparently on good terms with Calloway, whose release she is trying to bring about.”

It is likely that the Army officials believed they had no case for treason based simply on the letter. No doubt they did not want to reveal the extent of their surveillance operation. (It was Calloway who told the Consunjis of his troubles three years later.) Another motive would have been to avoid the revelations that he had been especially sympathetic to the Filipinos as a result of hearing Tomas’s descriptions of US forces’ brutality to the population of San Fernando. Such allegations would have been spread all over the press in the Islands, and at home by the Anti-Imperialist forces. The Americans seem to have tried to destroy his career by using a trumped up charge.

Having failed to convict Calloway, the Americans were determined to get him out of the country as they considered him an “ extremely dangerous” character. Indeed, the American officials were concerned at the degree of friendship which had developed between their black soldiers and the “natives”. Reports of the number of marriages between them was a matter of particular concern.

Calloway, of course, denied that he was in any way treasonous, pointing to his dedicated service and his heroic volunteer mission some months previously in which he had to sneak through insurgent lines at night to deliver an important order to attack them. He tried to explain that he had private sympathy for the plight of the Filipinos, and that his hope was for them in the future, but that in no way detracted from his commitment to do his public duty for his country. He said this while reminding his interrogators that his people had been very badly treated for hundreds of years back home. He was not afraid to speak the truth to power! Calloway sought a court-martial for the alleged treason so that he could be vindicated.

Instead of another court-martial, the next step against Calloway was to build up the case for an administrative procedure leading to his deportation and discharge. Asked for a recommendation, his Regimental Commander, who had only served as such for three months, showed his prejudice as well as a common fear that the black soldiers were proving unreliable:

‘The education of this man has fostered his self-conceit to an abnormal degree, and he has shown himself to be without principle by abandoning his legal American wife for a Filipino woman… He is likely to join the Filipino ranks should a favorable opportunity offer.” He therefore recommended that Calloway be confined in Manila until he could be deported and discharged without honor. Calloway was extremely unlucky here; in October the previous year, he had been recommended for appointment as 1st Lieutenant by his previous Commander. He sought in vain to have all of his previous commanders contacted.

The matter went up the chain of command, with concurring recommendations at each level. The Commanding Officer of the Northern Luzon Department, Major General Lloyd Wheaton, commented, “In my opinion he will desert to the assasins (sic) infesting this Department if he has the opportunity.” (This was the war criminal who, after his unit was ambushed in the opening weeks of the war, ordered all villages within a 12-mile radius destroyed, and the inhabitants killed. Of course he was never prosecuted, and came to be considered a war hero for his part in defeating the Filipino armed forces.)

Although Calloway was unaware of the precise evidence against him, and the substance of the recommendations against him, he had gained a reasonable idea of what he was up against. In late November, from the National Bilibid Prison, he petitioned the military judicial office for a reversal of the orders against him. In addition to believing himself very badly treated-humiliated and abused in confinement-he also had a dream of staying in the country, in order to start a business, as many black veterans were to do. From his meager pay, he had saved about US$1500 towards that goal.

But his plea was not answered. The matter was referred to the Inspector General, who provides insight on the gaze of accusatorial authority: “Calloway is a bright man, with an adroit mind, a very good command of language, and a marked skill in evading a question and misconstruing words… In view of Calloway’s education, command of language, and knowledge of the meaning of words, as shown in his conversations, and the education of the man to whom he wrote, this letter can only be taken as meaning exactly what it says.” His conclusion: “I regard him as a dangerous man, in view of his relations with the natives, as shown by this letter, and the circumstances of his court-martial.” So dangerous that he concurred with the recommendations to deport and discharge without honor, but added that Calloway “not be allowed to return to these Islands as a civilian.”

By Dec. 12 the recommendations against him were on the desk of the Commanding Officer in the Philippines, who agreed with the conclusions of his Inspector General, and concurred that Calloway should be deported, demoted to rank of private and dishonorably discharged.

In a last ditch attempt to have his case properly heard, he somehow managed to get legal assistance for the first time. His lawyer, Eber C. Smith, was an American with a general practice in Manila. The American dominated Supreme Court denied an application for habeas corpus, holding it had no jurisdiction over persons arrested by the US authorities. (Such a result in the Guantanamo Bay cases would have gladdened the heart of President George W. Bush, but the context of American repression has changed.)

Calloway was shipped back to San Francisco where he remained in prison until the case was reviewed in Washington, D.C. He again wrote a strong plea for re-consideration, pledging once again his loyalty, explaining he had never intended treason and reminding them once again of his record, especially his loyal service for many months after the letter was written. He again sought a court-martial so he could defend himself. Nevertheless, in February 1901, he was informed that the orders stood, he was officially broken in rank to private, discharged without honor.

Eight months later he attempted to re-enlist, but was forbidden to do so. Determined to prove himself, he returned to the Philippines at his own expense and found civilian work in the Bureau of Public Printing. He worked diligently for two years. In April 1904, there followed another petition to re-enlist in the Army, addressed to the Secretary of War, now William Howard Taft of Philippine Commission fame. His faith in the authorities is moving, but was quite ill-judged. The reply was swift, and negative. Subsequently, without Calloway’s knowledge, the authorities in Washington warned the Philippine authorities that a “dangerous character” was now back in the Islands, living at No. 35, San Jose Trozo, Manila.

After that rejection, it seems that Calloway was a defeated man. He appears to have returned to the USA. It is likely he was forced out following the warning about his whereabouts. What happened to him is not known. One commentator suggests that he again attempted to re-enlist to serve his country in World War I, without success.

An interesting twist to the case is that he served in the same “colored” Infantry Regiment as the famous American defector, David Fagan, who fought so effectively as a guerrilla leader with the Filipino army. It was Calloway who had counter-signed Fagan’s original enlistment papers just days before they sailed for Cuba. The regimental association with Fagan was clearly a factor counting against him. From Manila, General Arthur MacArthur, Officer Commanding, said in his official recommendation :

“It is very apparent that he is disloyal and should he remain in these islands, he would undoubtably commit some act of open treason and perhaps join the insurrection out and out. One man of the 24th Infantry by the name of David Fagan has already done so and as a leader among the insurrectos is giving great trouble by directing guerrilla bands.”(

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