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Harlem Hellfighters exhibit at Empire Plaza

The “Harlem Hellfighters” unit of World War I, the unit that included Albany war hero Sgt. Henry Johnson, is being honored  throughout February in the Vietnam Memorial Gallery located in the Robert Abrams Justice Building at the Empire State Plaza, 156 State St., Albany, across the street from the state Capitol. Exhibition hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment through Feb 28.

An Opening Reception will be held Wednesday, Feb. 7,  5:30 to 7:30 p.m.,   free and open to the public, in the lobby of the Vietnam Memorial Gallery. The event will feature special remarks by representatives of the state Division of Veterans Affairs and the 369th Veterans Association Inc.
The free public exhibition, “Their Glory Can Never Fade: The Legacy of The Harlem Hellfighters,” is dedicated to the soldiers of the African-American 369th Infantry Regiment and   explores the history and legacy of the New York National Guard unit based in Manhattan and dispatched to fight for France in World War I. The Harlem Hellfighters served longer than any American regiment of World War I.

Authorized in 1913, and based in Harlem, the 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly known as the 15th Infantry of the New York National Guard, was the first African American regiment of the New York National Guard. Historical objects and images in the exhibit include a presentation of images that will be accompanied by the spoken words of Noble Sissle Jr., son of 369th veteran and musician Noble Sissle; Bronx Music Heritage Center Folklorist, City Lore and Co-Artistic Director Elena Martinez; 369th Experience Program Executive Producer Stephany Neal; and 369th Veterans Association Inc. Albany Chapter President Deryl McCray.

 For information, visit https://ogs.ny.gov/about/Press/Docs/2018/hellfighters-release.pdf/. For additional information about the exhibition and the New York State Vietnam Memorial & Gallery, visit http://www.empirestateplaza.org/; follow @NYSCapitolVisit on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; or call the Empire State Plaza Visitor Center and Gift Shop at (518) 474-2418.

Before the war, the 369th unit, which served under French command,   also assembled African American and Puerto Rican musicians to form a regimental band that is credited with influencing   the development of jazz music, according to the state Office of General Services.
Johnson, an African-American World War I soldier from Albany who was denied the Medal of Honor for 93 years because of racial injustice, was posthumously awarded the nation’s highest military honor on June 2, 2015.
President Barack Obama acknowledged the oversight and  recounted Johnson’s uncommon battlefield bravery. On May 15, 1918, Johnson was a private on sentry duty when he single-handedly fought off a German raiding party with grenades, a rifle and a knife despite being badly wounded.
 At 5 feet 4 and 130 pounds, Johnson fought with a ferocity that belied his small stature and earned him the nickname “Black Death.”
President Theodore Roosevelt called Johnson “one of the five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I. After the war, Johnson battled depression and alcoholism. He died, destitute, in 1929 at age 32. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

In National Archives and Records Administration photo above, nine soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, were photographed upon their return from World War I. 


Gloria Mazure

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Boomer & Senior Resources is dedicated to empowering area seniors, their caregivers and healthcare professionals to obtain the knowledge and resources needed to provide quality care for an aging relative, friend or patient.

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