The th was not only an outstanding military unit; it also represented a part of the history of my Harlem community and, as such, part of my history as well. As I learned the story of the regiment—how it was first formed, its glorious record in World War I—I knew I was discovering a hidden history of African American accomplishments.
In the th I found a brotherhood of soldiers whose bravery and dedication brought them respect and admiration that were often denied outside the military experience. Judging by what I felt when I put on the uniform and marched or trained with the th, I could easily understand how the men who had first joined the old 15th New York National Guard back in felt. The 15th, which became the th, faced prejudice and segregation but endured to perform valiantly.
When, in , President Woodrow Wilson declared that America was entering the war to make the world safe for democracy, many questioned why African Americans, routinely segregated and often abused, would voluntarily enter the armed forces, risking their lives for a country that had not yet afforded them equal rights. The answer to that question lies in the story of the th.
Hundreds of black men laid down their lives in France because they refused to believe that they were anything but men, worthy of being Americans and representing their country. As unit historian I recognize that the documentation of the th is as vital to understanding the African American experience as any story about slavery or the civil rights movement. For in the story of the th—in the trenches of France, in the battles of Meuse-Argonne, and at the bloody siege of Sechault—we have African Americans defining their own characters with courage and determination, writing their own history in sweat and blood.
We cannot let this history die, nor can we let it fade away. As it has filled me with pride and given me understanding of one group of outstanding soldiers, so it should be passed on to all Americans to appreciate and honor. This book is dedicated to all the men and women who served in the th Harlem Hellfighters. When the first Africans arrived in North America in as captive labor, they found a conflict between the white British and the Native Americans, who were here first. The colonists were hesitant to arm the very people they had enslaved, but blacks soon found themselves not only working the land but defending it as well.
Later, during the French and Indian War — , blacks were again called upon to help defend the British. When the American colonies declared their independence on July 4, , thousands of blacks lived in the thirteen colonies. Most of them were slaves. Some were promised their freedom if they fought against the British; others were simply sent into the war as laborers, personal aides, or soldiers.
The small American navy consisted largely of privately owned vessels called privateers, and many of these had black sailors among them. The first voyage of the Royal Louis resulted in a stunning victory against a British ship and the taking of the ship as a prize of war.
Forten, who had befriended the son of the captain who held him, refused the chance to go over to the British side and escape imprisonment. He saw himself, even during this period in which slavery was legal, as an American and remained loyal to the American cause. Pay voucher for Nero Free, a dead black Revolutionary soldier—the money going to his master. Eventually, more than five thousand black men would fight for the independence of the colonies. A Hessian soldier commented in his diary that there were blacks in every American regiment that he had seen.
During the course of the war the British offered freedom to any slave who would fight with the British against the colonists. Many blacks did escape to the British lines and either worked as laborers for the British or participated in battles against the rebellious Americans. During the Revolutionary War the colonists were divided in the treatment of black men. On one hand they were being asked to fight for the liberation of the colonies, but on the other hand they were not being guaranteed their own freedom. Lord Dunmore, the governor of the Virginia Colony and a British loyalist, had worried about the presence of blacks in Virginia.
He felt that the blacks would side with whoever offered them freedom. When the war began, he offered blacks their freedom in return for fighting with the British. Hundreds of black men joined the British army and fought against America, sometimes having to fight against the many thousands of blacks who fought for the colonists. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book.
Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Bill Miles. The story of the Harlem Hellfighters is not simply one of victory in a war. It is the story of men who acted as men, and who gave a good account of themselves when so many people thought, even hoped, that they would fail.
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What defines a true hero? At a time of widespread bigotry and racism, these soldiers put their lives on the line in the name of democracy. With compelling narrative and never-before-published photographs, Michael L. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. More Details Original Title.
The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage
Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Harlem Hellfighters , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about The Harlem Hellfighters. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jan 08, Pam Williams rated it it was ok. I chose this book for my Battle of the Books nonfiction selection because it was co-written by Walter Dean Myers and was about the first black army division which fought in WWI.
I was so disappointed by it and the fact that I'm forcing my students to read it.
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It's not well written and requires some work to slog through. Mar 13, Tommy C rated it really liked it. It was a very in-depth book about these fighters and there day to day struggle in and outside of America.
This book really shows you everything about them and their lives. It is a well-written book on a subject that's hard to find information on. I loved the photographs. They show men proud to serve their country and make democracy safe for the world, while this same democracy was denied to them.
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Telling the story of real people made this book come alive. Apr 24, Albert Wiley rated it really liked it.
Loved reading this book. Learned a lot about a part of history that can get lost. Feb 15, Anna Piranha rated it it was amazing. Really quite a short read. Very informative though and I'd highly recommend it for those who are looking for a deeper understanding of history. Aug 30, Kevin J. Blacks and their defense of freedom A fantastic look at how Blacks have fought and died for our nation. Mar 03, Alicia rated it liked it Shelves: black , male , historical , nonfiction , action , politics-justice , war.
The details of the story of the Harlem Hellfighters is what makes it a comprehensive look at this group born through World War I. I was blown-away by the references and short story of Henry Johnson from Albany, NY, knowing that it could be used to bolster the information that students hear from living here, but also stories about German tactics, trench warfare, and situations regarding who would lead, fight, and how they would organize.
Likewise, I thought the book could have ended less abruptly. It seemed like the war was over, the parade happened, Miles threw in a bit about the race riots and the book was done. It would have served the book better to have a more complete conclusion. Overall a good nonfiction read focusing on overcoming obstacles and national pride. Feb 16, Charles Martin rated it liked it Shelves: information-biography.
Walter Dean Myers focuses primarily on the African American experience in his writing, and this nonfiction text is no exception.
The book is full of various pictures, memos, quotations, letters, posters, etc. The second half of the text is much more personal and engaging than the first half -- which I credit to the inclusion of more specific anecdotal stories about specific soldiers. I still feel the book only scratches the surface about the experience; Walter Dean Myers focuses primarily on the African American experience in his writing, and this nonfiction text is no exception.
I still feel the book only scratches the surface about the experience; however, it is a wonderful text for middle school students learning about World War I or African Americans in history. The story of the Navy's first black master diver. The movie would provide visual images and behaviors that might shed light on the surface descriptions of racism in the military in the Myers text. All in all, this book is a great addition to anyone's WWI-related library -- perfect for helping students understand racism in and out of the military. View 2 comments. Mar 10, James rated it liked it.