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When the shells exploded prematurely overhead, a rain of shrapnel fell on the men below--better than when the shells exploded in the trenches Recruited from all walks of Harlem life, the regiment had to fight alongside the French because America's segregation policy prohibited them from fighting with white U.
Despite extraordinary odds and racism, the th became one of the most successful--and infamous--regiments of the war. The Harlem Hellfighters, as their enemies named them, spent longer than any other American unit in combat, were the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine, and showed extraordinary valor on the battlefield, with many soldiers winning the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor.
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Picture Book. Jennifer D. Asukile , Thabiti. The Black Scholar , Vol. On 30 August , the th was reorganized and redesignated as the th Coast Artillery Antiaircraft and inducted into Federal service 13 January He was just a year-old sergeant when the Army shipped him and about 1, other African American soldiers to the fort for training. It was cold, that was what I remember most. The reported rape of a white woman, supposedly by a member of the th, in the winter of , marked a low point in relations between the unit and the local community.
The soldier was later exonerated. The th spent some eight months at Fort Ontario practicing antiaircraft drills. The lights had been set up on frozen Lake Ontario. As the ice thawed, the positions had to be moved. We were thankful we found that out or the equipment would have been inundated in water.
For example, the soldiers enjoyed dancing with local girls at a club in town and perpetuating the famed th band of the World War I era. When Governor Lehman inspected the unit that month, it was led by African American officers, a change from the white leadership standard in the World War I era.
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In August , the th Infantry was reorganized and redesignated as the th Coast Artillery Antiaircraft Regiment. Despite this apparent goodwill between the th and its host community in Oswego, not everyone was sold on the idea of African Americans in the military—even in segregated units. New York Times reporter Hanson W. In a scathing editorial in the fall of , William H. Stimson, blasted such insulting assessments. The th left Camp Edwards, Massachusetts for California in the spring of The homes were gorgeous.
Nothing but respect, they were very proud of us…I had no problem. It should be noted that on 1 January , a second th Infantry Regiment was constituted in the Army of the United States. Activated on 15 May , this regiment was assigned to the 93d Infantry Division and served in the Pacific Theater. Like the earlier th Infantry, this regiment was largely an all-black unit.
It did not share lineage with Harlem Hellfighters and was disbanded on 4 August Race relations were much more fluid in Hawaii at this time than on the mainland. Racial origin means nothing to the individual in his status as an American. Among the racial groups there is mutual understanding and friendly sympathy. The th, comprised mostly of New Yorkers unaccustomed to such overt prejudice and slights, brooked no insults, refusing to vacate sidewalks for whites, for example, and insisting that all men of lower rank salute them as military protocol demanded.
Related A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home
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