Rare photos of soldiers unknown

Digging through basements and crates, you’ll occasionally come across a gem or two. And what a treat when those gems are photos you’ve never seen before that tell a new side of a story you already knew. In this case, we’ve come across a couple of rare photos of Black soldiers in World Wars I and II.

The “Harlem Hellfighters,” a.k.a. the 369th Infantry, was an all-Black regiment of the U.S. Army that fought alongside the French in World War I. They’re one of the most famous units, returning home to NYC in 1919 with stories of heroism that surpassed most of their white American counterparts, with whom they were unable to serve due to U.S. segregation laws.

In this photo from 1918, the 369th Infantry enjoyed some downtime, playing basketball in France. With 8 soldiers visible on the outdoor court, you can see countless Black soldiers standing on the sidelines as spectators. Almost all of them appear to be in uniform.

369th Infantry plays basketball

According to the National Archives,

The 369th Infantry helped to repel the German offensive and to launch a counteroffensive. General John J. Pershing assigned the 369th to the 16th Division of the French Army. With the French, the Harlem Hellfighters fought at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. All told they spent 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit in the war. “My men never retire, they go forward or they die,” said Colonel Hayward. Indeed, the 369th was the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine.

All Black regiments also served┬áduring WWII. In 1944, these soldiers prepared to fire on the Germans, with a missile labeled, “Harlem to Hitler!” We’ll call that aggressive humor.

Harlem to Hitler

Have you come across any incredible historical photos that tell their own stories?

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