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The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage

The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage

by Walter Dean Myers, Bill Miles

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New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers and renowned filmmaker Bill Miles deftly tell the true story of the unsung American heroes of the 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I in The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage.

At a time of widespread bigotry and racism, the African American soldiers of the 369th Infantry


New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers and renowned filmmaker Bill Miles deftly tell the true story of the unsung American heroes of the 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I in The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage.

At a time of widespread bigotry and racism, the African American soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment put their lives on the line in the name of democracy.

The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage is a portrait of bravery and honor.

Supports the Common Core State Standards

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thanks to his usual impeccable research, Walter Dean Myers with Bill Miles once again presents a rich history and assortment of photographs, facsimile reproductions of documents such as pay vouchers for soldiers, a Civil War ad for "white or colored" sailors, and political cartoons in The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage. The book lays the groundwork for what was then called the Great War, describing the military history in the U.S. as well as conditions in Europe that led President Wilson to declare war on Germany in April 1917, then zeroing in on the title company-the men of the 369th Infantry. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
The 369th Infantry Regiment distinguished itself in World War I more than most other U.S. fighting units. America's fighting role in the Great War was relatively short, but the 369th's story is exceptional because it was a black regiment in an era of segregation when blacks were usually regimented to jobs as laborers. The 369th fought as part of the French Army and saw lots of combat. Some of the battles were so horrific that newspapers dubbed the 369th Hellfighters. By war's end it was one of the most decorated American regiments of WWI. Myers and Miles have done an excellent job retelling this dramatic story—one of the previous books on this subject, now out of print, was by yours truly—which undercuts popular arguments for segregation in America. Miles is the 369th's historian and his contribution has enhanced this attractive and engaging book with personal accounts and photographs. 2006, HarperCollins, Ages 9 to 12.
—Michael L. Cooper
Myers and Miles walk the reader through battles fought on American soil with blacks helping defend the land in the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the years of the Indian Wars, and the Spanish-American War. They describe the turmoil in Europe when the Allies backed Serbia against Austria-Hungary and Germany when the world collapsed into war. The meat of the book consists of the resistance in America at the thought of black units fighting in the war as equal men and of the war itself and the heroic deeds of the 369th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The regiment fought the Germans and their Allies, but they also waged another war against the prejudiced minds of their countrymen. They battled men and women who believed in segregation, slavery, and the acceptance of unequal rights. The Harlem Hellfighters used courage, determination, and bravery to confront both foreign enemies and domestic prejudice to prove to the world that courage could be found in all men. The book flows like a novel, making the reader eager for the next segment of history. The writing style, short chapters, and photos will attract reluctant readers. Primary sources of pictures, letters, and newspaper articles pepper the pages, making history come alive. The use of primary sources, the wealth of information, and the rarity of the subject make this book a must for public libraries and classroom use. VOYA CODES: 5Q 2P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2006, HarperCollins, 150p.; Illus. Photos. Maps.Biblio., and PLB Ages 11 to 15.
—Jennifer Rummel
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-In writing this account of the 369th Infantry Regiment from New York City, Myers was joined by Miles, a documentary filmmaker and official historian of the group that came to be known as the Harlem Hellfighters in the early 20th century. The authors begin with an explanation of the racial conditions and wartime roles of African Americans throughout history, describe the regiment's establishment and development, and then focus on its role in World War I. As a whole, the text is disappointing and often frustrating. It lacks excitement and urgency to convey the import of these history-making soldiers or to engage readers, and there aren't many tools to enable report writers, such as an index or time line. The many archival photographs are interesting, but unfortunately they are undated and poorly captioned. Nor are there any helpful maps of the many integral locations and troop movement in the U.S. and Europe. Questionable logic and unsubstantiated opinion also call the historical soundness into question. For example, the statement that "Marriage can be difficult for anyone, but for a young man without an education the pressures can be unbearable," prefaces one soldier's decision to do "his duty" and join up. Later, German soldiers' thoughts and feelings are presented as fact and, other than a limited "Selected Bibliography," there is no documentation. Abruptly, the war ends and the book concludes with a chapter called "Heroes and Men" that doesn't sufficiently convey the lasting impact of the Hellfighters. Students need a book about these brave, groundbreaking, and noble men, but this is not the one.-Andrew Medlar, Chicago Public Library, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A history of Harlem's all-black regiment and its exploits in France during the Great War is marred by uneven storytelling and inadequate documentation. Myers and Miles take their time with setup, providing histories of both African-Americans in combat and the conditions in Europe that led to the outbreak of WWI. Even when they reach the formation of the 15th New York National Guard, they back and fill in a dedication to exposition that leaves the reader wondering what the story is. The mobilization of the 15th-now the 369th-Infantry in France is similarly plagued with narrative snags, only occasionally offering up stories of bravery in combat that illustrate the courage of these men who fought to "make the world safe for democracy," even as they lived in most undemocratic conditions. These anecdotes, and the quotations from soldiers and their families, are shockingly poorly sourced, with neither textual references nor chapter notes to complement the brief bibliography. The whole reads like a second draft, with clunky transitions and a diffusion of focus that drag down what could have been an enormously inspiring tale. (Nonfiction. 9-12)

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

The Harlem Hellfighters

When Pride Met Courage
By Walter Dean Myers


ISBN: 0-06-001136-X

Chapter One

Defending America

Blacks have participated in all of America's battles. When the first Africans arrived in North America in 1619 as captive labor, they found a conflict between the white British and the Native Americans, who were here first. The colonists were hesitant to arm the very people they had enslaved, but blacks soon found themselves not only working the land but defending it as well. Later, during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), blacks were again called upon to help defend the British.

When the American colonies declared their independence on July 4, 1776, thousands of blacks lived in the thirteen colonies. Most of them were slaves. Some were promised their freedom if they fought against the British; others were simply sent into the war as laborers, personal aides, or soldiers. The small American navy consisted largely of privately owned vessels called privateers, and many of these had black sailors among them. James Forten, a free black youth of fourteen living in Philadelphia, sailed with Captain Stephen Decatur Sr. aboard the Royal Louis in the summer of 1781. The first voyage of the Royal Louis resulted in a stunning victory against a British ship and the taking of the ship as a prize of war. Forten's luck did not last very long, and the Royal Louis was captured by a British warship.Forten, who had befriended the son of the captain who held him, refused the chance to go over to the British side and escape imprisonment. He saw himself, even during this period in which slavery was legal, as an American and remained loyal to the American cause.

Eventually, more than five thousand black men would fight for the independence of the colonies. A Hessian soldier commented in his diary that there were blacks in every American regiment that he had seen.

During the course of the war the British offered freedom to any slave who would fight with the British against the colonists. Many blacks did escape to the British lines and either worked as laborers for the British or participated in battles against the rebellious Americans.

During the Revolutionary War the colonists were divided in the treatment of black men. On one hand they were being asked to fight for the liberation of the colonies, but on the other hand they were not being guaranteed their own freedom. Lord Dunmore, the governor of the Virginia Colony and a British loyalist, had worried about the presence of blacks in Virginia. He felt that the blacks would side with whoever offered them freedom. When the war began, he offered blacks their freedom in return for fighting with the British. Hundreds of black men joined the British army and fought against America, sometimes having to fight against the many thousands of blacks who fought for the colonists.

The war ended successfully for the colonists, and many slaves who had taken up arms or labored for the Americans were recognized and given their freedom in thanks for their participation in the war. Blacks who fought for the British were, by agreement between the American and British governments, given their freedom and taken to the West Indies or to Canada after the war.

Most of the battles in the War of 1812 against Great Britain took place at sea with mixed crews of blacks and whites. General Andrew Jackson, fighting off the British at the end of the war, put out a call to black citizens to fight in the American army: "Through a mistaken policy you have heretofore been deprived of a participation in the glorious struggle for national rights in which our country is engaged. This no longer shall exist."

Black soldiers served in this brief war both as soldiers and as laborers, building fortifications, carrying supplies, and even acting as spies.

The United States of America is a constitutional democracy guaranteeing its citizens certain rights. During the period of American slavery these rights were not being given to black people. Throughout early American history there have been incidents in which black people revolted against those who would keep them in slavery.

In 1822 a free black, Denmark Vesey, planned a slave revolt in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1831 Nat Turner led an armed rebellion that ended with the deaths of more than fifty whites. In 1839 Africans aboard the ship Amistad killed the Spanish crew and captured the vessel. These revolts demonstrated that black people wanted freedom as much as anyone and were willing to fight for it. Recognizing that black people wanted to be free and would do what was necessary to achieve that freedom, slaveholders made it illegal for any black person to be in possession of a firearm, or for blacks to gather in large groups away from the plantations on which they worked. Free blacks were not allowed to travel in Southern states, where most of the slavery existed.

By 1859 the Northern states had developed quite differently than those in the South. The Southern states were primarily agricultural and largely dependent on slave labor for economic success. The Northern states had a mixed economy, with a growing reliance on industry. Niles' Register, a nineteenth-century publication that often reflected Southern views, complained that if a Southerner died, he would be buried in a grave dug by a shovel manufactured in the North, buried in a casket made in the North, and preached over by a minister holding a Bible printed in the North.

For young Southerners who did not want to be planters, the military became the pathway to becoming "an officer and a gentleman." A large number of the officers in the American army were from the slave states of the South. On October 16, 1859, they would be tested both as soldiers and as Southerners.

Harper's Ferry, Virginia, was a small, somewhat sleepy town with little to distinguish it from the neighboring areas except for its military arsenal. It was this arsenal that was the target of ...


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Meet the Author

Walter Dean Myers was the New York Times bestselling author of Monster, the winner of the first Michael L. Printz Award; a former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature; and an inaugural NYC Literary Honoree. Myers received every single major award in the field of children's literature. He was the author of two Newbery Honor Books and six Coretta Scott King Awardees. He was the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, a three-time National Book Award Finalist, as well as the first-ever recipient of the Coretta Scott King—Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Oscar nominee Bill Miles produced and directed numerous award-winning documentaries dedicated to African American history and achievement, including I Remember Harlem and The Different Drummer: Blacks in the Military. He was named the official historian of the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem.

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