“They Fought to Fight: African American Soldiers and the Great War”
A Lecture by Jeffrey T. Sammons
Professor of History, New York University.
Co-Author, Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality
This year marks the 100 anniversary of the end of World War I aka the World War and the Great War, and in 1918 the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), led by General John J. Pershing, finally made their mark on a conflict that had been raging since the summer of 1914. The war took the lives of more than 9 million soldiers and 8 million civilians. It was the deadliest military struggle known to humankind and one with earth shattering consequences. It was promoted as “the war to end all wars” and “the war to make the world safe for democracy.” As an even more deadly World War II proved, neither claim was true. Perhaps that is why the conflict has been largely forgotten by most Americans. Yet, it marked the introduction and development of weapons of mass destruction, the rise of the national security state, altered the map of the globe, and sowed the seeds of future conflicts. America, despite a failure to shape the peace, emerged from the conflict as a global military and economic superpower.
Another positive outcome of the war was that it afforded people of color, here and abroad, the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity, skill, and courage for modern warfare on an international stage. Some 400,000 blacks served but only 40,000 saw combat. Of those who fought, none became more famous than the men of New York’s 15th National Guard, which, became the 369th Regiment during the war. Also known as the Harlem Hell Fighters and the Rattlers, the Regiment was rejected by the AEF and assigned to the French Army from which it received a Croix de Guerre (French Cross of War) along with 174 individual soldiers. Among its ranks was Sgt. Henry Johnson, one of the war’s greatest heroes, who, after years of neglect and denial by American government and military authorities, Johnson received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. His partner in the action that made him famous was Neadom Roberts of Trenton, one of the many New Jerseyans in the Regiment.
Please come hear and see Professor Sammons, whose deep New Jersey roots include being a Bridgeton native, BHS graduate, Rutgers College Alumnus, and a former Henry Rutgers Research Fellow at Rutgers-Camden at the Swedesboro Library, February 12, 7:00-8:30 pm. “Funding has been made possible in part by the New Jersey Historical Commission / Department of State, and the Gloucester County Cultural & Heritage Commission of Rowan College at Gloucester County”