Did You Know: The Most Famous Combat Unit of World War I was Black


The most famous African-American Combat Unit of WWI, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, or originally the 369th Infantry Regiment of the 93rd Division, was composed of African-American soldiers serving the segregated U.S. Army. The U.S. Army did not send African-Americans in WWI to battle due to segregation and racism, whites thought the black soldiers would not useful during battle. So instead of fighting for their country they were digging ditched, building road and supplying the frontline for the soldiers.

The Harlem Hellfighter’s Regiment would soon prove the segregated army wrong. These soldiers were readily accepted by the French Army which needed reinforcement. After being trained, they took part in combat and began to build a legacy. This, firstly neglected and underestimated group of true warriors soon became the most respected, most feared, group of soldiers of their time. This Allied unit was constantly pushing the borderline forward with intense bravery and strength.


The Harlem Hellfighter spent more days on the frontline than any other regimen during the war, 191 days. It is this type of bravery that made them famous during the war, so famous that other countries gave them nicknames like the Men of Bronze but the Harlem Hellfighters stuck with them. Why “Harlem” Hellfighters? Because the majority of their unit was from Harlem.

We have far too many unknown and untold stories, let’s continue to talk about and spread the word about our hidden figures!


PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.

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  1. Candace…it is very hard for me to understand why you did not inform the readers of your article in regard to the Harlem Hellfighters…that the French Government awarded the entire 369th Regiment the Croix De Guerre (Unit Citation) for their Valorous Combat Actions???

  2. All of that, white folk didn’t believe the black man would be useful in the battle field was simply a ruse. The truth is that the 369th or Harlem Hell Fighters were a New York National Guard unit, and the white supremacists advocated sending black national guard units overseas instead of regular army soldiers from the 24th Infantry, 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments because they believed that the National Guard units were less trained and would fold under pressure in order to embarrass black groups led by W.B. DuBois of the NAACP who were pressuring the US government to allow black soldiers to fight. The reason that the Hell Fighters of the 369th Regiment were assigned to the French Government was because it was the only black National Guard unit that had colonels who were at the regimental command position and their white superior officers of the US Army did not want white soldiers having to take orders from black regimental command officers. The more seasoned regular army soldiers who were kept in the US were veteran soldiers many of whom unlike white soldiers made the army a career and thus a few black officers would have been in senior position to be promoted to generals when WWI broke out. They were seasoned fighters from their engagements on the Mexican border fighting Poncho Villa, and the Indian warfare on the western frontier, as well as the Spanish American War in 1898 in Cuba. The Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th or 10th Cavalry allegedly saved Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders from being wiped out by the Spanish Army during the infamous and falsely entitled Battle of San Juan Hill. Several black soldiers received Congressional Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars, as well as the Spanish American Wars. They were seasoned fighters and the reason why Colonel Charles Yong like others forced into early retirement rode all the way to Washington D.C. from Wilberforce, Ohio on his horse to prove that he was fit for battle. He was still denied a active war commission but was allowed to become the military attache in Liberia, West Africa. The 369th would produce two heroes Sgt. Henry Johnson who received the Croix De Guerre, and private Needham Roberts both awarded the highest French Medal for bravery in war though the US would award no Medal of Honor to black soldiers during WWI. Sgt. Henry Johnson would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor 90 years later as a result of being posthumously honored by President Barack Obama.

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