The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage

The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage

by Walter Dean Myers, Bill Miles

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"We cannot let this history die, nor can we let it fade away. As it has filled me with pride and given me understanding of one group of outstanding soldiers, so it should be passed on to all Americans to appreciate and honor" (from the introduction by coauthor and unit historian Bill Miles)

The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage is a portrait of bravery and honor. With compelling narrative and never-before-published photographs, this 160-page highly illustrated narrative nonfiction book introduces the unsung American heroes of the 369th Infantry Regiment, the Harlem Hellfighters.

A good choice for book reports and other research by middle grade students—as well as for parents and teachers to share with young people interested in World War II and African American history.

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.

Bill Miles wrote: "The 369th was not only an outstanding military unit; it also represented a part of the history of my Harlem community and, as such, part of my history as well. As I learned the story of the regiment—how it was first formed, its glorious record in World War I—I knew I was discovering a hidden history of African American accomplishments."

He continued: "As unit historian I recognize that the documentation of the 369th is as vital to understanding the African American experience as any story about slavery or the civil rights movement. For in the story of the 369th—in the trenches of France, in the battles of Meuse-Argonne, and at the bloody siege of Sechault—we have African Americans defining their own characters with courage and determination, writing their own history in sweat and blood."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061974991
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/06/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 77,658
File size: 6 MB
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About 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.

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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