The Harlem Hellfighters of 369th Infantry Regiment: Defied Racism, Earned Glory

369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, African-Americans, Croix de Guerre, Henry Johnson, Max Brooks, World War I, Harlem Hellfighters
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These are troubling times for people of colour in the United States of America. African-Americans, in particular, are finding themselves at the end of the baton more often than not. Police brutality is becoming a sad reality in the lives of hard-working African-Americans who find themselves in a state of flux.

What makes this present-day scenario even more unfortunate is the glorious past that is associated with this loyal race. There are examples, strewn across the pages of history, that speak volumes about the loyalty of the African-American people, both in troubled times and otherwise.

One such glorious chapter is that of the 369th Infantry Regiment of the 93rd Division of the United States Military, during World War I. During the war, nearly 380,000 African-Americans served in the U.S. Army. They primarily served in the 92nd and 93rd Division. While there was no official segregation policy, they were told to tear off one corner of their military identity cards so they could be identified and separated from their white counterparts. These all-black units served mostly under white officers and were assigned to non-combat roles, such as digging ditches, building roads, and supplying the front lines. Throughout the course of the war, only about one in ten African-Americans in the U.S. military served in a combat role. The 369th Infantry Regiment was different.

369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, African-Americans, Croix de Guerre, Henry Johnson, Max Brooks, World War I, Harlem HellfightersSource: Eurweb

They were dubbed The Harlem Hellfighters by Germans who were privy to the wrath the Hellfighters wrought upon their opponents.

They were initially sent to France, to fight alongside the French forces who unlike the Americans, were happy to accept any soldier willing to fight, regardless of race. The Hellfighters ended up serving under the French command for the entirety of the war.

369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division, African-Americans, Croix de Guerre, Henry Johnson, Max Brooks, World War I, Harlem HellfightersSource: Grandmotherafrica

The Hellfighters would spend 191 consecutive days out on the front lines, the most of any American regiment during the war. During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which began on September 26, 1918, the Harlem Hellfighters captured the town of Ripont and pushed forward one kilometre the following day. By the end of the month, they had advanced to a critical position near Séchault, capturing a key railroad junction. These advances cost the regiment 851 men, dead or wounded in a matter of days. In recognition of their bravery, 171 officers and men received medals for bravery, while the entire regiment received the Croix de Guerre, or the “Cross of War” from the French Government.

Sadly, back in the USA, recognition for them came too late, when in 2014 a legislation was passed in Congress to pave the way for Sgt. Henry Johnson, who served in the 369th regiment, to receive the Medal of Honour for his actions during World War I.

The Harlem Hellfighters were and are a beacon of hope for millions around the world. We salute them for their bravery and valor.

Title image: Wikipedia


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