A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighter's Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home

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Overview

The night broke open in a storm of explosions and fire. The sound of shells whizzing overhead, screeching through the night like wounded pheasants, was terrifying. When the shells exploded prematurely overhead, a rain of shrapnel fell on the men below—better than when the shells exploded in the trenches...

In A More Unbending Battle, journalist and author Pete Nelson chronicles the little-known story of the 369th Infantry Regiment—the first African-American regiment mustered to ...

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A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighter's Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home

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Overview

The night broke open in a storm of explosions and fire. The sound of shells whizzing overhead, screeching through the night like wounded pheasants, was terrifying. When the shells exploded prematurely overhead, a rain of shrapnel fell on the men below—better than when the shells exploded in the trenches...

In A More Unbending Battle, journalist and author Pete Nelson chronicles the little-known story of the 369th Infantry Regiment—the first African-American regiment mustered to fight in WWI. Recruited from all walks of Harlem life, the regiment had to fight alongside the French because America’s segregation policy prohibited them from fighting with white U.S. soldiers.

Despite extraordinary odds and racism, the 369th became one of the most successful—and infamous—regiments of the war. The Harlem Hellfighters, as their enemies named them, spent longer than any other American unit in combat, were the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine, and showed extraordinary valor on the battlefield, with many soldiers winning the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. Replete with vivid accounts of battlefield heroics, A More Unbending Battle is the thrilling story of the dauntless Harlem Hellfighters.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
New York Times
“In rich detail, Mr. Nelson recalls how the regiment fought valiantly at the front (and through its marching band helped introduce jazz to Europe.) Some of the most moving passages, though, are about what happened before and after.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Nelson seamlessly interweaves the military narrative with vivid firsthand accounts…[He] offers a nuanced, in-depth portrait of this group of ordinary men who fought with inspiring courage and dignity. A valuable addition to World War I and civil-rights scholarship on a subject too frequently overlooked.”
Marilyn Nelson, Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Book Award, and three-time National Book Award honoree, Connecticut Poet Laureate, and author of Carver: A Life in Poems and A Wreath for Emmett Till
“Having watched the Tuskegee Airmen receive their due respect some sixty years after they served, I commend Peter Nelson’s A More Unbending Battle for the respect it gives to an earlier and equally deserving group of American patriots. This book, long overdue, makes an invaluable contribution to American and African-American military history.”

Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University
“A thrilling story of the heroes and horrors of war, A More Unbending Battle restores the overlooked Harlem Hellfighters to their rightful glory. Peter Nelson has brought to life an extraordinarily pivotal moment in the history not only of World War I, but of race in the American consciousness.” 

Mick Sussman
…[Nelson's] done a service by compiling a record of these soldiers' bravery in the cause of an American democracy that they claimed, with defiance and hopefulness, as their own.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

The 369th Infantry was the first black regiment mustered to fight in World War I. While most black troops were relegated to service and supply units, the 369th fought-alongside French troops because American practice prohibited them from fighting with white soldiers. The duration and courage of their combat duty led to their nickname. Nelson concludes his study by tracing the personal stories of these veterans and their difficulties after returning to America. For all World War I readers.
—Edwin Burgess

Kirkus Reviews
The story of the Harlem Hellfighters, an all-black regiment who fought against the Germans in World War I and against racism at home. Even though racism was still widespread in American politics in 1916, there was a dire need for soldiers at the front. Despite protests from Southern politicians who feared that allowing blacks to serve would subvert Jim Crow laws, the 369th Infantry Regiment was formed, led by white officers William Hayward, Hamilton Fish and Arthur Little. Training had not yet begun when violence erupted, as white supremacists sought every opportunity to form lynch mobs. Upon arriving in Europe, the 369th fought with the French Army under Gen. Henri Gouraud, who welcomed them with open arms. The 369th proved their mettle in battle, with men like Henry Johnson becoming war heroes, earning the regiment their Hellfighters name. Nelson (Left for Dead: A Young Man's Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis, 2002, etc.) seamlessly interweaves the military narrative with vivid firsthand accounts. The Hellfighters were a true brotherhood whose influence extended beyond the trenches. Jim Europe, a noted musician, stunned the French with jazz interpretations of popular French songs, instigating a French obsession with jazz in the postwar era. Noble Sissle became a hit songwriter and fought for the recognition of black artists. Little, Haywood and Fish all became active proponents of civil rights. The Hellfighters fought a war on two fronts and displayed incredible fortitude in the face of prejudice, racial violence and the ever-present gas and machine-gun fire. Nelson offers a nuanced, in-depth portrait of this group of ordinary men who fought with inspiring courage and dignity.A valuable addition to World War I and civil-rights scholarship on a subject too frequently overlooked. Author tour to New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465003174
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/11/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 599,502
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Pete Nelson’s writing has been published in numerous publications, including Harper’s, Esquire, Men’s Health, Outside, and Rolling Stone. He is an award-winning author of seventeen books, the most recent being Left for Dead. He lives in South Salem, New York.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    A Segregated War

    A More Unbending Battle tells the incredibly powerful story of the 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, the first African-American regiment to be deployed for combat in World War I. In fact, it was the first African American regiment to be deployed for combat in a global conflict. Author Pete Nelson has a gift for humanizing history and this book is full of the very real personal stories of these men, most who gave their lives for their country, a country that did not always treat them as well. Although they were permitted to carry weapons and trained for combat, there was much skepticism in the U.S. military about the wisdom of this decision. Previously, these segregated regiments had been used only as labor troops. But the French had been at war for a while, their troops seriously depleted so the 369th Infantry was sent to France to fight under the French flag. The soldiers were stunned at how well they were treated by the French; France did not have the segregation policies that were in place in the U.S. military and the soldiers fought side by side to hold the lines. They went on to distinguish themselves in combat until the end of the war, never losing ground and no prisoners were taken. Nearly 200 members of the unit were awarded the Croix de Guerre. The soldiers who returned to America after the war were filled with a new dignity and there was a national pride in their accomplishments that became their legacy. Nelson follows these men, recruited from all walks of life, from enlistment to combat and if they were lucky, back home again. This brilliant chronicle will change the way history remembers the Harlem Hellfighters.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 18, 2009

    A Segregated War

    A More Unbending Battle tells the incredibly powerful story of the 369th Infantry, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters, the first African-American regiment to be deployed for combat in World War I. In fact, it was the first African American regiment to be deployed for combat in a global conflict. Author Pete Nelson has a gift for humanizing history and this book is full of the very real personal stories of these men, most who gave their lives for their country, a country that did not always treat them as well. Although they were permitted to carry weapons and trained for combat, there was much skepticism in the U.S. military about the wisdom of this decision. Previously, these segregated regiments had been used only as labor troops. But the French had been at war for a while, their troops seriously depleted so the 369th Infantry was sent to France to fight under the French flag. The soldiers were stunned at how well they were treated by the French; France did not have the segregation policies that were in place in the U.S. military and the soldiers fought side by side to hold the lines. They went on to distinguish themselves in combat until the end of the war, never losing ground and no prisoners were taken. Nearly 200 members of the unit were awarded the Croix de Guerre. The soldiers who returned to America after the war were filled with a new dignity and there was a national pride in their accomplishments that became their legacy. Nelson follows these men, recruited from all walks of life, from enlistment to combat and if they were lucky, back home again. This brilliant history will change the way the Harlem Hellfighters are remembered.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2010

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    Posted December 28, 2010

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    Posted November 2, 2012

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    Posted November 3, 2012

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