The 369th Infantry regiment was the first Black regiments to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. The regiment was originally nicknamed the Black Rattlers before becoming the “Harlem Hellfighters” after arriving in France.
Trained as infantrymen, they deployed to help unload supply ships. Once they arrived in France, the regiment was loaned to the French Army, who were in desperate need of replacements.
The Hellfighters received their new, formidable nickname from the Germans; “Hollenkampfer” in German translates to “Hellfighters.” Because they battled Germany feverishly. And since most of the unit hailed from Harlem, New York, the name stuck.
The Hellfighters became the most celebrated Black Infantry regiment in World War I. Though the unit lost 1,500 men, and only received 900 replacements, the Hellfighters were the first unit of the French, British or American Armies to reach the Rhine River at the end of the war.
They were the only infantry unit, that spent more time in combat (on front lines) – 191 daysays reports. Note- they wore French uniforms.
The Hellfighters were lauded in Europe for their bravery – the French loved them, especially the French women. But when the war ended and the Hellfighters returned home, they faced racism and segregation just like any other black men.
Black soldiers station in France during WWI, are contributed with introducing jazz to the French, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that the genre really took hold.
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