44 Vintage Photos of the U.S. 369th Infantry Regiment, “The Harlem Hellfighters” during World War I

On 5 October 1917 long time secretary to Booker T. Washington, Emmett J. Scott was appointed Special Assistant to Newton D. Baker, the Secretary of War. Emmett was to serve as a confidential advisor in situations that involved the well-being of ten million African-Americans and their roles in the war. While many African Americans who served in the Great War believed that, upon returning home racial discrimination would dissipate, that did not happen. Racial hatred after World War I was probably at its worst until the start of the Second World War. So with this American discrimination of African American soldiers, these troops were often sent to Europe where they were used to fill vacancies in the French Armies. Unlike the British, the French held high opinions of black soldiers which made for a more positive environment when working together. Ironically this made African American troops more passionate about fighting for America. This newly created patriotism by African Americans then led to the creation of the 369th Infantry Regiment.

Although many African Americans were eager to fight in the war, they were being turned away from military service. When America realized that they did not have close to enough soldiers, they decided to pass the selective service act which required all men from the age 21-31 to enlist in the draft. Additionally, they decided to allow African Americans to enlist as well. This would give African Americans the opportunity that they needed to try and change the way they were perceived by white America.

The 369th Regiment was formed from the National Guard’s 15th Regiment in New York. The 15th Regiment was formed after Charles S. Whitman was elected Governor of New York. He enforced the legislation that was passed due to the efforts of the 10th Cavalry in Mexico which had passed as a law that had not manifested until 2 June 1913.

Once the United States entered into World War I, many African Americans believed that entering the armed forces would help eliminate racial discrimination throughout the United States. Many African Americans felt that it was “a God-sent blessing” so that they could prove that they deserved respect from the white Americans through service in the armed forces. Through the efforts of the Central Committee of Negro College Men and President Wilson, a special training camp to train black officers for the proposed black regiments was established.

Lieut. James Reese Europe and the 369th band on their way back to New York, 1919.
The 369th parades up Fifth Avenue upon their return to New York. Feb. 17, 1919.
Members of the 369th arrive back in New York, 1919.
Members of the 369th arrive back in New York, 1919.
The 369th parades up Fifth Avenue upon their return to New York. Feb. 17, 1919.
Soldiers of the 369th ‘Harlem Hellfighters’ wearing the Croix de Guerre medal pose for a photo on their trip back to New York, 1919. In this picture we see: front row (left to right) – Private Ed Williams; Herbert Taylor; Private Leon Fraitor; Private Ralph Hawkins. Back row (l-r) – Sergeant H. D. Prinas; Sergeant Dan Storms; Private Joe Williams; Private Alfred Hanley; and Corporal T. W. Taylor. When America joined the Great War, the first African-American regiment to fight was the 369th Infantry, transported to France at the end of 1917. The racism and discrimination the soldiers encountered had begun during training in America, and continued in Europe, with many white US soldiers refusing to fight alongside the 369th. After April 1918, under the control of the French Army, such discrimination lessened. Nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters,” the members of the 369th were renowned for bravery, ability and ferocity. On their return to New York City after 1918, they received a euphoric welcome, marching up Fifth Avenue.
Feb. 17, 1919.
Wounded soldiers of the 369th ride in their victory parade. Feb. 17, 1919.
Spectators cheer on the 369th, formerly known as the 15th Regiment, upon their return to New York. Feb. 17, 1919.
Members of the 369th in combat on the Western Front, 1918.
A wounded veteran watches the victory parade of the 369th. Feb. 17, 1919.
Members of the 369th Infantry band perform under the direction of Lt. James Reese Europe in France, 1918.
Cpl. Fred McIntyre of the 369th poses with a bullet-framed photo of Kaiser Wilhelm which he carries for good luck, 1918.
The 369th parades through the streets of Harlem. Feb. 17, 1919.
Spectators gather to watch the 369th on their return parade. Feb. 17, 1919.
Officers of the 369th and 370th return home bearing the Croix de Guerre medal, 1919.
Lt. Reese leads the 369th band in a parade upon their return to New York City. Feb. 17, 1919.
Soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment stand at attention, 1918.
Members of the 369th Infantry band perform at an American Red Cross hospital in Paris. 1918.
Sgt. Henry Johnson of the 369th poses wearing the Croix de Guerre, awarded for bravery in an outnumbered battle against German forces. Feb. 17, 1919.
Lt. James Reese Europe leads the 369th band in their victory parade in New York.
Lt. James Reese Europe, left, arrives in New York with the 369th Infantry, commonly known as the “Harlem Hellfighters, ” following the conclusion of World War I. On that day in 1919, the infantry unit was treated to adoring cheers throughout the streets of Manhattan.
Members of the 369th Infantry march with their unit’s colors, which had been decorated in part by the French Government.
Lt. Europe leads the 369th Infantry band as it entertains wounded American soldiers at a Paris hospital, 1918.
A New York crowd eagerly awaits the passing of the famous 369th Infantry. Feb. 17, 1919.
Members of the 369th Infantry band perform at an American Red Cross hospital in Paris, 1918.
New York’s famous 369th regiment arrives home from France, 1919.
Needham Roberts, 369th U.S. Infantry, Decorated with the Croix De Guerre with Palm and wearing two service stripes and two wound stripes.
Soldier-Musicians of the New York National Guard’s 369th Infantry Regimental Band conduct a performance in France for troops somewhere in France in an undated Army Signal Corps photo. The 369th Regimental Band is credited with introducing jazz to Europe during their performances as ambassadors of the all-Black infantry troops serving in the re-designated National Guard’s 15th New York Infantry. The 369th arrived in France in December 1917 and initially served as a labor force to improve the port of St. Nazaire, France for follow on forces. The infantry regiment would not move on to prepare for combat operations until March 1918. The 369th Infantry, an all-Black combat unit, served with distinction under French command in WWI and received the nickname Hell Fighters of Harlem from their German enemies.
369th Infantry marching on Fifth Avenue, New York City. Feb. 17, 1919.
369th Infantry marching on parade, New York City. Feb. 17, 1919.
Color bearers of the famous 369th Regiment at beginning of parade in honor of their return to New York City. Feb. 17, 1919.
Colors of The Famous 369th Infantry in Parade in New York City. Feb. 17, 1919.
The 369th New York Infantry troops listening to their band play its last tune before debarking at Hoboken, New Jersey. February, 1919.
Troops of the 369th New York Infantry before debarking at Hoboken, New Jersey. February, 1919.
Spectators gather to watch the 369th on their return parade. Feb. 17, 1919.
Henry Johnson, one of heroes of New York’s 369th Regiment, passing along Fifth avenue during parade. He is standing in automobile with bouquet presented to him by well-wishers. Feb. 17, 1919.
The 369th parades up Fifth Avenue upon their return to New York. Feb. 17, 1919.
The 369th’s band parades up Lenox Avenue upon their return to New York. Feb. 17, 1919.
The 369th parades up Lenox Avenue upon their return to New York. Feb. 17, 1919.
Lieutenant James Reese Europe and his famous band of the 369th Infantry in the parade in Fifth Avenue. Feb. 17, 1919.
Parade of returned fighters of the famous 369th Regiment at the Flatiron Building, New York City at the start of the parade. Feb. 17, 1919.
Spectators gather to watch the 369th on their return parade. Feb. 17, 1919.

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