The Harlem Hellfighters, 1919

by jordanjlloydhq

Colorized by Jordan J. Lloyd, based on a print by an unknown photographer

Taken 1919, New York City, United States (US National Archives & Records Administration)

The 369th Infantry Regiment consisted mainly of African Americans and several Puerto Ricans fighting in France during WW1, where they spent more time in the trenches than any other American unit.

Given the nickname Hommes de Bronze (Men of Bronze) by the French and the Höllenkämpfer (Hell-fighters) by the Germans, the regiment's origins came from an opportunity for black and brown Americans who initially were turned away from military service due to their race. The Selective Service Act of 1917 rectified this situation and many black Americans signed up, believing that fighting in the armed forces would help end racial discrimination.

Following basic training, the unit was seconded to the French Army as many white American soldiers refused to fight alongside their black compatriots. The French welcomed them with open arms – the 369th's performance was so effective the entire unit was awarded a citation as well as the Croix de Guerre to 170 individuals. The US Army awarded Distinguished Service Crosses and one Medal of Honour.

Original caption reads,

"Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.), awarded the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Left to right. Front row: Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Storms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, Cpl. T. W. Taylor."