“We Return Fighting”: The Harlem Hellfighters in World War I

9 Black American Soldiers pose on in uniform. All have the Croix de Guerre medal pinned to their left breast pocket.

Soldiers from the 369th Infantry Regiment returning from France. National Archives

How to register:
We offer two field trip scheduling options:

Audience: All audiences. Content appropriate for Grades 6-12.

Goal: Recognize the commitment, challenges, and sacrifices of the Harlem Hellfighters.

Program Description:

From the Revolutionary War and through the present day, African Americans have proudly served the U.S. Army, many serving in segregated units and not always given the respect and honor due to them.

On December 27, 1918, the 369th Infantry Regiment docked in Brest, France. The all-Black regiment, comprised of men from Harlem, New York and surrounding cities, were assigned to the Service of Supplies – unloading ships and building roads and railroads. Three months later, the regiment was transferred to the French Army where they were given a position on the frontlines and earned a new nickname: “Hellfighters.” In the 191 days the men spent on the front lines no ground was lost and no man was captured. Their actions earned them accolades in France and they were celebrated on their return to the United States.

Explore the commitment, challenges, and bravery of the Harlem Hellfighters. Learn how their actions, along with the thousands of other Black World War I veterans, contributed to the Allied victory. Examine the legacy of their service and its impact on the civil rights movement.

Objective: At the end of this lesson students, will be able to

  • Describe the U.S. Army’s role in World War I.
  • Understand how African Americans have used military service as a strategy to advance civil rights.
  • Describe the impact of the African American military service on the home front before, during, and following World War I.

Guiding Questions:
How did African American military service in World War I contribute to the civil rights movement?

Curriculum Connections

Common Core Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.

History and Social Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools

  • United States History: 1865 to the Present
    • USII.7 The student will apply social science skills to understand the changing role of the United States from the late nineteenth century through World War I by
      • Evaluating and explaining the reasons for the United States’ involvement in World War I and its international leadership at the conclusion of the war.
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