Harlem Hellfighters

The Harlem Hellfighters

Called Men of Bronze by the French

Among the first to arrive in France, and among the most highly decorated when it returned, was the 369th Infantry (formerly the 15th Regiment New York Guard), often called the "Harlem Hellfighters."  The 369th was an all-black regiment under the command of mostly white officers including their commander, Colonel William Hayward.

The war effort was problematic for African-Americans.  While America promised to make the world safe for democracy, it ignored the fight for equality within its own borders.  The law of the land was "separate but equal."  The U.S. Army at this time drafted both black and white men, but they served in segregated units.  When teh black community protested, the Army agreed to train African-American officers but it never put them in command of white troops.

During the Great War, 380,000 African-Americans served in the Army.  Roughly 200,000 of these were sent to Europe.  Only 42,000 saw combat, with the rest working as laborers.

General John J. Pershing assigned the 369th to the 16th Division of the French Army.  With the French, the Harlem Hellfighters fought at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood.  All told they spent 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit in the war.

Harlem Hellfighters