The French described them as “Men of Bronze,” others knew them as the “Black Rattlers,” and their official title was the 369th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army.
But you can call them the “Harlem Hellfighters.”
The Germans did. And it’s a fitting description for one of the first all-black U.S. Army units that — despite the low expectations of American skeptics — fought valiantly on the front lines of World War I.
If you haven’t heard of them before, it’s not surprising. Their success as one of the most decorated units of the war was quickly obscured in the virulent and violent racism of 1920s America.
But before the Hellfighters were once again relegated to lives as second-class citizens, for one brief moment — on a sunny New York day in February 1919 — it had seemed as though they might have changed how Americans saw race and how foreigners saw America.
By overcoming stigma at home and surviving 191 days of enemy fire abroad, it almost looked as though the Harlem Hellfighters had changed the world.