The United States Congress has passed the Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act to honor the 369th Black Infantry Regiment. The Harlem Hellfighters are the most celebrated Black regiment from World War I.
While all members of the Harlem Hellfighters have since passed away, their descendants have pushed for the medal to be awarded posthumously.
Harlem Hellfighters was a nickname given to the 369th Infantry Regiment, a regiment comprised mostly of African Americans who fought bravely during WWI. Many white American soldiers refused to fight alongside these men, so the U.S. Army decided to place the unit under the control of the French Army. Here, they wore U.S. uniforms but were issued with French tools and equipment.
At the time, many French soldiers and civilians did not harbor the same disdain for African Americans, and for the most part, treated them equally to any other French unit. The regiment would eventually prove their worth in combat, as they would end up spending more time on the frontlines than any other U.S. regiment. As a result, they would also lose more men than any other U.S. regiment.
The Congressional Gold Medal is an award given by the United States Congress to express appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
“The Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act honors these brave men, who, even as they faced segregation and prejudice, risked their lives to defend our freedoms,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said.
“The Harlem Hellfighters served our nation with distinction, spending 191 days in the front-line trenches, all while displaying the American values of courage, dedication, and sacrifice,” the Senator said.
The Congressional Gold Medal will be publicly displayed in the Smithsonian museum.
Representatives Tom Suozzi and Adriano Espaillat and Senator Gillibrand sponsored the bill, which passed the House two months ago and then the Senate last week.