Resource Guide on the Harlem Hell Fighters

blue jazz band

Thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Sammons, Chief Historical Advisor for the “JAZZ MEETS FRANCE” Concert, we are pleased to provide you with the following resources to learn more about the Harlem Hell Fighters of the 369th Regiment. 

The French-American Cultural Foundation is proud to honor these brave and talented African-American jazzmen-soldiers as we mark the centenary of the U.S. entry into the Great War.  The “JAZZ MEETS FRANCE” Concert at the Lisner Auditorium on Wednesday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. will provide an opportunity for those attending to learn about the Harlem Hell Fighters and hear the unique sound of American jazz that they introduced to France.  For tickets and more information, go to



On June 29, 1916, the 15th Regiment (Colored) was born and was incorporated into the New York National Guard, or so it seemed. The term “Colored,” however, was far more than a mere designation; it was a stigmatizing speech-act relegating to separate and unequal status the first such African American unit to be officially recognized by the state. When the New York National Guard was called into federal service for World War I, the 15th was not an integral component of the 27th Division (formerly the 6th Division). The only instance in which it trained with the 27th Division was for a brief period in October 1917 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, of all places, before being sent to France to avoid a racial war at home. When the regiment arrived in France in December 1917, it was virtually alone and deployed as a labor unit—building roads, digging canals, and unloading ships. The work was not only arduous but demeaning and demoralizing, as these men had trained for combat.

In an act of expediency and convenience, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing acceded to the desperate pleas of the French military for American combat troops and assigned the dispensable, newly designated 369th Infantry of the 93rd Provisional Division to the French 4th Army. The placement with the French was an undeniable instance of good fortune, as the 369th was engaged in four major battles, for which the entire unit received the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War), as did 174 individual soldiers.  At least eleven officers and men received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest American military honor.

The regiment was on the front 191 days—the longest of any American unit—and never lost a foot of ground it had taken or a single man to capture, thanks in largepart to Henry Johnson, who, along with Neadom Roberts, repelled a German raiding party of twenty-four men. For his actions, Johnson received the Croix de Guerre with Palm, the highest level at which the honor is given. Not until 1996 did Johnson receive an American medal, the Purple Heart, followed by the Distinguished Service Cross in 2003, and the Medal of Honor in 2015, the last only after years of intense advocacy and fact-finding. He was the second African American who fought in WWI to receive the nation’s highest military honor.

Much more well-known is that the 369th arguably had the greatest band in the US Army. Led by the gifted musician and composer, Lt. James Reese Europe, the band introduced live jazz to European audiences and revolutionized military music in the process, especially by integrating woodwinds played largely by musicians from Puerto Rico.  As one of the essays below reveals the 369th Band undoubtedly influenced music in Africa as well, especially Senegal.

Largely forgotten is the essential work of the Women’s Auxiliary of the 15th Regiment. A call by the National League for Women’s Service to help the nation in its moment of crisis prompted “a few thoughtful women of the race” to cooperate with the Woman’s Loyal Union of Greater New York to coordinate the response. These women immediately turned their attention to the 15th Regiment as an integral community institution and instrument of their aspirations. Led by Susan Elizabeth Frazier, president of the Women’s Loyal Union, they provided food, clothing, and money to dependent families and prepared comfort kits for the men. These women were determined to transcend the typical support roles reserved for them. Shortly after the East St. Louis riot of July 1917, the Women’s Auxiliary of the 15th spoke out in indignation against wrongdoing “heaped upon a race always prayerful, long suffering, truly American, ever patriotic, and loyal to the interests of our country.”  Members, including the auxiliary’s first vice president, Maria Coles Lawton, helped to organize and lead the historic Silent Protest Parade of July 28, 1917, which, according to Alessandra Lorini, expressed itself in the language of utopia and countered the “dehumanizing grotesque” characterizations of blacks, casting New York’s black citizens as moral witnesses “to the nation’s Bastille of prejudice.”


Badger, Reid. A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Benjamin, Rick. Black Manhattan: Theater and Dance Music of James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook, and Members of the Legendary Clef Club

Bernier, Celeste-Marie: Suffering and Sunset: World War I in the Art and Life of Horace Pippin, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2016.

Saintourens, Thomas.  Les Poilus de Harlem:  L’Épopée des Hellfighters dans la Grande Guerre.  Paris.  Editions Tallandier, 2017. (in French)

Brooks, Max and White, Canaan, The Harlem Hellfighters, New York: Crown/Archetype, 2014. (Graphic Novel)

Davis, Arthur, P. Here and There with the Rattlers, Detroit, MI: Harlo, 1979.

Harris, Stephen L. Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I, Washington, DC: Brassey’s 2003.

Harris, William. The Hellfighters of Harlem: African-American Soldiers Who Fought for the Right to Fight for Their Country, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002.

Lewis, Audrey, ed. Horace Pippin: The Way I See It, New York: Scala Arts Publishers Inc (2015)

Little, Arthur W. From Harlem to the Rhine: The Story of New York’s Colored Volunteers, New York: Covici Friede, 1936.

Nelson, Peter. A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters’ Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home, New York: Basic Civitas, 2009.

Roberts, Frank E. The American Foreign Legion: Black Soldiers of the 93rd in World War I, Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press (2004)

Sammons, Jeffrey T. and Morrow, John Morrow, Jr., Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality, Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2014. 

Slotkin, Richard. Lost Battalions: The Great War and the Crisis of American Nationality, New York: Henry Holt, 2005.

Stein, Judith E. ed. I Tell My Heart, The Art of Horace Pippin, New York: Universe Publishing (1993)

Children’s Books:

Bryant, Jen, and Sweet, Melissa.  A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House (2013).

Lewis, J. Patrick and Kelley, Gary, Harlem Hellfighters, New York: Creative Editions, 2014. (Picture Book)

Myers, Walter Dean and Miles, William, The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage, New York: Harper Collins, 2009.

Documentary Films:

Miles, William, Men of Bronze: The Black American Heroes of World War I, 1977.

Merlis, George, Harlem Hellfighters, Fisher/Merlis Television for the History Channel, 1997.

Essays, Book Chapters, and Poems:


Dove, Rita, “Ripont,” The American Poetry Review, Vol. 33, No. 5 (SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2004), pp. 8-9.

Foley, Barbara, The New Negro and the Left, pp. 1-69, From

Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the Making of the New Negro, University of Illinois Press (2003)

Harrell, Ernest J and Hawthorne, Larry, “Black Soldiers in Uniform and Out,”

US Black Engineer

Vol. 14, No. 3 (SUMMER 1990), pp. 34-36, 38

Jennifer D. Keene, “Americans as Warriors: ‘Doughboys’ in Battle during the First World War,” OAH Magazine of History

Vol. 17, No. 1, World War I (Oct., 2002), pp. 15-18

LaRue, Paul, “Unsung African American World War I Soldiers,” Black History Bulletin, Vol. 80, No. 2, AFRICAN AMERICANS IN TIMES OF WAR (Fall 2017), pp. 16-20 Published by: Association for the Study of African American Life and History


Asukile, Thabiti

“J.A. Rogers’ ‘Jazz at Home’: Afro-American Jazz in Paris During the Jazz Age”

The Black Scholar, Vol. 40, No. 3, BLACK ISSUES: 2010 (FALL 2010), pp. 22-35

Badger, R. Reid, James Reese Europe and the Prehistory of Jazz

American Music, Vol. 7, No. 1, Special Jazz Issue (Spring, 1989), pp. 48-67

Brooks, Tim James Reese Europe (pp. 267-296)

Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919, University of Illinois Press (2004)

Dove, Rita, “Noble Sissle’s Horn,” The American Poetry Review

Vol. 33, No. 5 (SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2004), p. 7.

Dove, Rita, “The Return of Lieutenant James Reese Europe

The American Poetry Review, Vol. 33, No. 5 (SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2004), p. 8.

Golden, Eve, Chapter Twenty-two “Mrs. Castle is exhausted” pp. 130-133

From the Book Vernon and Irene Castle’s Ragtime Revolution

University Press of Kentucky (2007)

Lawson, Bill E., Afterword: Stormy Weather and AfroModernism p. 232-242, from

AfroModernisms: Paris, Harlem and the Avant-Garde, Edinburgh University Press (2013)

Levin, Floyd, A PERSONAL VIEW OF THE MUSIC from Classic Jazz Book Subtitle: A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians, University of California Press. (2000)

Mangin, Timothy, R. Notes on Jazz in Senegal (pp. 224-248)

From: Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies, Columbia University Press (2004)

.Watkins, Glenn, “On Patrol in No Man’s Land,” pp. 312-332

From Proof through the Night: Music and the Great War, University of California Press (2003)

Welburn, Ron, “James Reese Europe and the Infancy of Jazz Criticism”

Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 7 (1987), pp. 35-44

Horace Pippin

Conn, Steve, “The Politics of Painting: Horace Pippin the Historian

American Studies, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1997), pp. 5-26

Monahan, Anne, I Rember the Day Varry Well: Horace Pippin’s War”

Archives of American Art Journal, pp. 16-23, Vol 47, (3-4), (Fall 2008)

Orgeman, Keely, “Side by Side: Horace Pippin at Edith Halpert’s Downtown Gallery

Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin, Recent Acquisitions (2014), pp. 36-41

Roberts, John W., “Horace Pippin and the African American Vernacular

Cultural Critique, No. 41 (Winter, 1999), pp. 5-36

Jeffrey T. SammonsJohn H. Morrow Jr., “Horace Pippin: World War I Soldier, Narrator, and Artist,”

Pennsylvania Legacies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 2017), pp. 12-19

Zilcer, Judith, “A Not-So-Peaceable Kingdom: Horace Pippin’s ‘Holy Mountain’”

Archives of American Art Journal, Vol. 41, No. 1/4 (2001), pp. 18-33

Online Resources

General: › African American History…to…/who-were-the-harlem-hellfighters/…/harlem-hellfighters-most-storied-african-american-combat-u…/04/…/the-harlem-hellfighters-fighting-racism-in-the-trenches-of-wwi…/the-harlem-hellfighters…/harlem_hell_fighters_personnel_record_cards_can_now_be_…/425/369th-regiment-armory-the-harlem-armory…era/harlem-hellfighters-facts.htm (History Channel Video 50 mins)…i/…/harlems-rattlers-world-war-i-regiment

369th Infantry Regiment – National Museum of African American ……/search?…q…%22369th…Regiment%22……/four-who-fought-for-france-with-369th-lauded-in-harlem.html

Henry Johnson:

Sergeant Henry Johnson | Medal of Honor Recipient | The United ……/remembering-henry-johnson-the-soldier-called-black-d…/in-sad-surprise-army-learns-that-new-medal-of-h…\

Medal of Honor Ceremony: Sgt. William Shemin and Pvt. Henry Johnson


Memorial Day: Correcting the Story of World War I Medal of Honor ……/…


by R Hernández—Beginnings – ‎2014 – ‎Related articles

Rafael Hernandez and the Puerto Rican Legacy of the 369th Regiment’s Harlem Hellfighters by Elena Martinez in VOICES: The Journal of New York Folklore, ..

The Harlem Hellfighters: Stories of the Latin Soldiers of the 369th …

James Reese Europe, 1881-1919 | Library of Congress James Reese Europe

James Reese Europe the Hellfighters – YouTube


James Reese Europe – The Jazz Lieutenant

White Officers:

Author Lectures:

Jeffrey T. Sammons |

A War within a War by Dr. Jeffrey T. Sammons and Dr. John H. Morrow …


Jeffrey Sammons & John Morrow, Jr., Harlem’s Rattlers – YouTube


Jeffrey T. Sammons is an American historian and professor. His areas of research and interest include African-American historymilitary history, and sports history.[1]He is the author of Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society and co-author of Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality. He is currently a Professor of History at New York University (NYU).