The Hellfighters of Harlem by Bill Harris
African-American Soldiers Who Fought for the Right to Flight for Their Country

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Their distinguished World War I record featured the longest front line service of any American regiment, with not a soldier captured or a foot of ground lost. They were the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine River. Their distinguished Private Henry Johnson was awarded France’s prestigious Croix de Guerre, for singlehandedly knocking out a platoon of twenty-eight German troops—yet Johnson is today still denied America’s Medal of Honor. While the French government honored the 369th’s battlefield exploits, the French people fell in love with its regimental band’s hot jazz. This saga of soldiers whose struggle to reach the front lines was shadowed by racism begins with debates among black leaders over whether African-Americans should withhold support for the war until steps toward equality were made, then follows the harrowing path of the 15th Regiment of Colored Infantry’s formation which, lacking a proper armory, drilled in the streets of Harlem and a local dance hall. The 15th was ready to fight by 1917, but was forbidden from serving under U.S. command by General John J. Pershing, who handed over the re-named 369th to the French Army. This rousing story of arms and a band—led by jazz pioneer Lieutenant James Reese Europe—that toured Europe’s hospitals, villages, and cities, is a thrilling portrait of the soldiers whose return to U.S. soil, complete with a spectacular parade up Fifth Avenue, helped fuel the Harlem Renaissance. It is also the story of the 369th’s contributions in the Pacific during World War II, and in Iraq during the Gulf War. It is a story of pride and accomplishment, not only of the Harlem Hellfighters, but of other black military heroes who have followed in their footsteps. 8 pages of black-and-white photographs are also featured, celebrating the military valor and musical splendor of the U.S. Army's most famous all-black regiment.
 

About Bill Harris

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Bill Harris has lived in the New York area for more than 50 years. He worked for the New York Times for 25 years and has been a licensed New York City tour guide since 1976.
 
Published November 1, 2002 by Carroll & Graf Publishers. 320 pages
Genres: History, War, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Though the men of Harlem were eager to enlist in 1917, they were dogged by endemic racism, which led the War Office to consider African-Americans unsuitable officer material and General Pershing to deny them the right to fight alongside white Americans.

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