Harlem Hellfighters Receive Congressional Gold Medal

Photo: Getty Images

The all-Black 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, received a Congressional Gold Medal last week for their service in World War I after President Joe Biden signed an act into law. 

“The Harlem Hellfighters risked life and limb in defense of an America that discriminated against them,” Rep. Joyce Beatty, a sponsor of the bill that led the award, said.

“Yet the Hellfighters helped liberate Western Europe and secure victory for the Allied Forces,” she added. “More than 100 years after these brave men fought so valiantly, I am proud to see my congressional colleagues and President Biden honoring them for their exemplary service on behalf of a very grateful nation. 

Replicas of the medal were given to the family of members of the 369th for their frontline combat.

Photo: Getty Images

The US entered the First World War in 1917, three years after it began. At the time, the nation’s military was still segregated and stayed that way until after World War II. Despite the segregation policy, Black Americans fought in both wars, often being assigned tasks that were both vital to military operations and undervalued. Black people dug ditches, cooked meals, loaded warships, maintained equipment, and buried other soldiers. 

The 369th fought with the French and British armies on the frontlines, even though the US military refused to issue the unit weapons. The Hellfighters fought alongside the European allies for 191 days, using gear and weapons from the French while wearing their US-issued uniforms. 

The unit earned its name because many of the men hailed from the historically Black community in NYC, though many came from the greater New York area including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. 

To learn more about the Harlem Hellfighters and other Black military regiments, click here.

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