Harlem Hellfighters to be awarded Congressional Medal of Honor

The Harlem Hellfighters By International Film Service, Photographer (NARA record: 544230) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain

Over a century after they fought and bled in the trenches of France, the Harlem Hellfighters, an African-American U.S. Army regiment, will finally be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer announced today.

“The Harlem Hellfighters are an example of courage under fire,” Schumer said. “It has taken too long for this country to recognize their bravery.” 

Officially designated 369th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellfighters were an almost entirely African-American unit sent to France in 1917 as part of the American Expeditionary Force. While training in South Carolina, the men of the regiment were subjected to reprehensible discrimination. Shop owners refused to serve them. Once over the Atlantic, they were put under French command – white soldiers refused to fight beside them. 

“Even though this regiment was consigned to racial segregation,” said Schumer. “They still loved America, fought hard for America, and died for America.”

And fought they did. During the War, the regiment spent more time in the frontline than any other American unit – 191 days – and suffered the most casualties: 1,500 men, a stunning proportion of their original strength. 

Schumer made the announcement alongside U.S. Representatives Tom Suozzi and Adriano Espaillat, New York State Senator Brian Benjamin, Assemblymembers Inez Dickens and Al Taylor, as well as family members of the Harlem Hellfighters. The Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2021 passed overwhelmingly and is now headed to the President’s desk, for signature.