African American Soldiers

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"African-American troops, from the 165th Depot Brigade, at the 'Stamp counter," 1917. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

More than 380,000 African Americans served during World War I, with over 200,000 fighting in Europe. Because of systemic racism and discrimination, most African American troops were assigned to support roles and did not participate in combat. In fact, only two infantry divisions comprised of African Americans (about 42,000 men) fought “in the trenches” during the campaign.

One of the divisions that did see combat was the 369th Infantry Regiment. As one of the first regiments to arrive in Europe in 1917, the “Harlem Hellfighters” spent 191 days in combat, more time than any other American unit. Upon their return home, the men were given a paradean honor in which they had been denied participation before leaving for the war.

Despite the fact that the 369th Infantry Regiment was one of the most decorated and successful American units in the war, its achievements did not prompt any noticeable improvements in working or social conditions for African Americans following the war.