In 1917, desperate times called for desperate measures. President Wilson ordered the enlistment of all able-bodied men, black or white...
The first all-black fighting unit to arrive in France was New York's 369th Infantry. The Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, General John, 'Black Jack' Pershing, bowed to political pressure back home and refused to use the men in combat. He assigned the 369th to the French High Command who dubbed them 'Les Enfants Perdus.... The Lost Children.' The unit's white commander, Colonel William Hayward would later write...
The Harlem Hellfighters spent 191 days in front line trenches, more than any other American unit. There was often nothing between the German Army and Paris but these black volunteers from New York. During that time, they never had any men captured nor any ground taken. At the Battle of Belleau Wood, a French General ordered the soldiers to retreat. Their commanding officer refused.
"Turn back? I should say not! My men never retire. They go forward or they die!" (Colonel William Hayward)
The Harlem Hellfighters are featured in the documentary of Black Military History, "For Love of Liberty."