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SYMHC Classics: Harlem Hellfighters

2020-06-13 | 🔗

This 2015 episode covers a black U.S. Army WWI unit that became one of the most decorated of the war. When these soldiers returned home, they were greeted as heroes, but were still targets of segregation, discrimination and oppression.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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Ibm, let's put smart to work, visit, IBM dot com, slash Smart, to learn more happy Saturday. Everyone to bathe classic episode, looks at the Harlem Hell fighters. This is a segregated army unit and robber one, and it also specifically focuses on Henry Johnson who was a member of that unit. He was posthumously awarded the medal of honor, I'm Jean second of twenty fifteen. One of the things that this episode talks about is the connection between returning world war, two veterans and the civil rights movement in the United States and why there wasn't a similar movement when black veterans returned from world war. One a piece of that discussion is red summer, which we talked about in more detail: inner episode from June third, twenty nineteen. This episode originally came out on November. Second, twenty fifty
welcome to stuff. You missed in history class, a production of I heart, radio below and welcome to the line, Tracy Wilson, then I'm Holly Frowny, pretty recently. We talked about mockery overseas and we talked in that ever said about how world were too often comes up as one of the factors of many that led to the United States, civil rights movement so told We simply soldiers who had put their lives on a line to serve their country and to fight against oppression abroad, came back home to fight against oppression where they actually lives. This story is usually told, as it related to african american soldiers and world or two, and in this particular case of the episode we already did mockery addressing it was a mexican national.
oh after he returned from world war to his experience being denied service that is Texas. Restaurant contributed to a social movement for equal rights for Mexico, Americans and other Hispanics emptiness who were living in that part, the United States. So when we did that episode, I'm a courier Garcia, we hinted that world were too was not. The only time has happened to the subject of that was going to be in an upcoming episode, and that is today's episode. We are going to tell this story about World WAR ones effect on civil rights in the United States. By talking about the Harlem Hell fighters, MRS Segregated Regiment, that serving combat, and, moreover, one so we're going to start by talking about the regiment itself, then we are going to talk about one of its most paraded members as an example of the just really exceptional valor and courage that the hell fighters exhibited while they were serving and road or when, at last
You are going to talk about why world, where one does not come up very often when we are talking about things that inspired civil rights activity in the United States, its much more overshadowed by road or two and whenever we talk about segregation on the pod, can we make it a point to note that the practice was not something that was confined to the south? That sort of rumours sort of persists somebody emails about it. The other day you even though I feel like, because we keep saying it were displayed again very directly, not just the south. although formalised legally enforced segregation persisted in the south longer than it did than it did in many other parts of the United States and in a lot of ways it was most obvious there, which is also here, where we are? Segregation really existed all over the nation, for example President Woodrow Wilson, who had promised in his campaign to treat african Americans fairly if he was elected instead started. Taking steps to allow segregation of federal government position,
Almost immediately after his inauguration in nineteen, thirteen May many black federal workers, all over the country were segregated or flat out dismissed. As a result, the United States armed forces were segregated as well, and the is leading the world were won. The Marines did not accept the black soldiers at all the Navy didn't accepted. You all their most of them were restricted to support and manual rolls so most black soldiers who served in a military one of serving in the army, which was segregated there, also, almost no black army officers and the black army officers who did exist were not ever placed in command of white soldiers. They were only placed in command of black soldiers, in addition to being restricted to cigarettes. it'd units black soldiers serving in world war. One face violence, while still in the United States before being sent overseas. These men were sent into the south, sometimes the deep south to be trained
large. Numbers of armed black men were often explicitly not wanted. In the southern states and these sudden influx of so many black soldiers, let us some very real, hostilities and on more than one occasion, riots and murders the army, has also been fairly candid and acknowledging that it discriminated specifically against black soldiers during this time, apart from just placing them in segregated units which, as we have talked and many other podcast before segregation based on race, is inherently discriminatory, so command at this point did not think that black men were suited for combat. They were viewed as untrustworthy and lazy and complacent so overwhelmingly black soldiers were assigned to work as annual labors so most of the two hundred thousand black soldiers,
I received and one where one wound up working as stevedores. They dug ditches the Douglas Dreams and to be clear, this was absolutely essential work. It needed to be done, but it was also often back breaking and degrading and overwhelmingly being assigned to only the lax odors black soldiers are also the ones who are frequently tasked with burying the dead. Only about forty, two thousand black soldier saw combat immoral war. One these men served in the ninety seconds and ninety third combat of it. Hence the ninety second, mostly comprised men who had been drafted along with their officers and was part of the muse, are gone offensive in nineteen eighteen. This offensive did not go as well as hoped and the ninety second round of being a scapegoat for everything that had gone wrong their time in common
was brief. The ninety third, on the other hand, was made up primarily of National guard units, including the fifteenth New York colored regiment about. Seventy percent of the men in this regiment were from Harlem in New York, and these were the men who would go on to be nicknamed the Harlem Hell fighters. The ninety third combat division under the common. Of Colonel William Heyward Wound, up essentially being alone to France, to fill a labour shortage in their own army, and this was in spite of this that when the United States entered the war, the president had assured the population that U S, soldiers would not be online to other armies. They would be fighting. Is american units under american command? So when it, when I receive the fifteenth near colored regiment was renamed the sweet. The three hundred sixty ninth infantry, and the three hundred sixty nine observed a hundred and ninety one days in combat this was longer than any other american unit and world or one contrary to the
american militaries assumption that black soldiers were not fit for combat and for their expectations were how black soldiers would perform recently. Ninth imagery became one of the most decorated units to serve in the war. Much like german forces named Russia's all female night bombers. The night which is in world war, two, they nickname the three and sixty nine. The polluter. Stick Schwarzer manner or the bloodthirsty black men in World WAR one and this nickname was eventually translated into the health fighters and additions. You there. consistent and valor and high performance and combat the three hundred and sixty nine in Montreal, marching band was also a skilled and talented one and was one of the ways that jazz music made its way from the United States to France during the war. The Harlem, all fighters time in combat was so prolonged and touch so many actions on the western France. That is actually difficult to get a sense of their remarkable
heroism and valor. So to get a glimpse of its, we are going to talk about one of them. Incredible members who really exemplifies what we're talking about, but first we are going to have a word from one of our great sponsors. This episode of stuff, you missed in history glasses, brought by Norton three sixty with lifelong. How use your time and what you Mustn T was totally within your control. Europe personal information. On the other hand, that is another story, because when you shop Bank or browse online, your personal information gets out there and you can lose control of it, exposing you to cyber crime, but you can get back the sense of control over how to help protect yourself and your personal information. Thankfully, there's Norton three sixty with life in all in one membership, for your cyber safety that gives you device security, identity theft, protection a Vps for online privacy and more plus, if there is an item,
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about. Specifically, the story of Henry Johnson. Henry Johnson was born William Henry Johnson in Winston Salem North Carolina and he moved to New York when he was a teenager. Once again, they are here. that a variety of jobs, most of them involving manual labor, and so he event He became a red cap porter at Albany New York TRAIN station. Later he joined the National Guard unit that would become part of the Harlem healthy. In May of nineteen eighteen, Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, both of them then privates were acting as centuries at a lookout posed in the argon forest. On the western front, Johnson heard the sound of someone snipping through barbed wire
concluding that this was a german advance. He sent Roberts to go for help called for help himself and then lobbed grenades at the source of the sound it wasn t a german advance and the Germans return fire with both grenades and bullets. Roberts turned back to try to help Johnson and both men were hit. Roberts was actually hurt so badly that he was not able to continue fighting, so he passed grenades too. Nonsense and Johnson through them at the approaching Germans until he ran out and then Johnson got his rifle any fired upon the advancing german soldiers until his weapon jammed after he accidentally tried to use an american clip with a french rifle at this point, the german soldiers closed into hand to hand range, and so Johnson tried to fight them off. Basically by swinging his rifle like a club until the book
it literally splintered RON Johnson, we should point out was not a large man. He was only about five foot, for you, wait about a hundred and thirty pounds and wants his rifle was destroyed. He was struck in the head and knocked down but then he saw that the german soldiers were trying to take the injured Private Roberts prisoner, said Johnson managed to get to his feet, He pulled out the only weapon he had left, which was his bolo knife, and he fought back with that, while trying to drag robbers to safety. Fortunately, at this point sounds of gunfire and grenades, and there are calls for help had brought other soldiers to their aid. So Johnson continued trying to drag Roberts we from the fighting until he lost consciousness. Fortunately, that was enforcement arrived in the german soldiers who were still upright fled, In the morning it was revealed that then private Johnson had single handedly, killed four enemy soldiers and wounded somewhere between ten and twenty more all well,
his injured himself, with twenty one wound sustained in his combat and refusing to allow his compatriots to be taken captive. Sal, both men were awarded the quad again, which is the french military decoration for valley and heroism dismayed Johnson and Robert, the first american privates of any race to earn this recognition and Johnson Birds were not the only member of the Harlem Hell fighters to ultimately be awarded the quad again for their valor all in all a hundred and seventy one individual members of the Harlem Hell fighters received aquatic air and the union as a whole. Was awarded one as well for capturing say, show, while advancing ahead of french and other american lines, the Harlem Hell fighters were the first to reach the Rhine after the armistice and they were commended again and again for their valor. So basically they performed above and beyond the call for any combat unit.
and especially in a way that flew in the face of what the American Command was expecting of them. You don't think you could get a much more can appoint portrait of heroism right, so Roughly eight hundred Harlem Hell fighters lost their lives in Europe about three thousand others returned home from the war in February of nineteen nineteen, they had a welcome home parade in which they marched up Fifth avenue in New York and into their home neighbourhood of Harlem in this period was in part to make up for the fact that, on their departure from New York in December of nineteen seventeen, they had not been permitted to take part. New York, national guards, Farewell parade through New York City, the New York, National Guard was known as the Rainbow division because it included members from twenty seven states and the reason for the fifteenth New York Regiments exclusion was black is not a color of the rainbow,
on their return. However, the Harlem Hell fighters received a legitimate hearers welcome, accounts very wildly about how many people weren't there for the parade. You will find new sources that fight anywhere Phronsie hundred thousand. people to more than two million jobs, was riding in a car for injured veterans and in spite of the fact that he had a shattered foot that was held together with a mental plate. He stood up to wave at them, and people called him black death. There spawns from both white and black onlookers at the parade was so a billion. We positive that so many. It was a symbol of hope for improved race relations to come, and this is both her by the fact that part
Theodore, Roosevelt called Johnson one of the five bravest Americans to serve in the war that high praise and the army used his image on recruitment posters and to sell victory war stamps couldn't find a picture of this actual advertisements that reportedly what it says I it is Johnson licked, a dozen germans. How many steps of you liked it? I looked for. I live vessel, coffee right now. So all of this chance in Spain, as a war hero, the overwhelming tide of support for the returning black veterans, is over all three that the war had been fought in a quote to make the world say for democracy gave a lot of people with this signalled, a major change in the social and legal status of African Americans and the United States. Sadly, this was not to be true and we are to talk about. Why and how? After another brief word from a sponsor this episode of
you missed in history glasses, brought to you by bounty I did a real smart thing recently that I've read cooking a lot more is that they have been oh, we ordered some soy sauce and the little plastic stopper that kind of portions out droplets into your stuff was somehow public. It just wasn't working properly. So I took it off and I said to my husband. I have to remember that I took stop. So I don't throw soy sauce around the kitten when I am next making recipe and what do you think happened the next term of useless? I I fall on it. It was like Libya, sport- I don't know what I'm seagoing in trying to lake quickly whip it from the model into the dish I was making, but it went Eber, Rywhere thing, We had bounty on hand to clean up the mess and actually, probably left the kitchen a little bit cleaner than I walked into it with and then is called who thinks about if you're worried about supplies, rest assured, bounty is producing, and shipping at
good high level, so they are really really working to get it back on the shelves, so you can use it bounty. The quicker picker upper, though we're part these days was sharing so Michael we'd, like to say thanks. Thanks for sharing your savage dance moves thanks for sharing your d, I why haircut fails Thanks for sharing your inner lips ink stop now Our turn to share with the Geico give back percent, credit on car and motorcycle policies for current and new customers, because for the longer the fifteen and credit. Last, your full policy to visit Guy the council S, give back for more info and eligibility, so when he was committing american troops to rubber one window. Wilson very famously said that quote: the world must be made safe for democracy
the alluded to that just before the break, but when african american soldiers return home to find that they were still the targets of segregation, discrimination and oppression, it really seem like there was an unspoken for white people at the end of that sentence, obeying to tie the fight for civil rights to the ideals had underpin the United States, very involvement in the war and the fact that so many black soldiers had returned as highly decorated heroes. Black civil rights leaders called for action. The idea of making the work say for democracy came up again and again in articles speeches, pamphlets and other materials about equal rights for black citizens in May. Have nineteen nineteen, for example, w e g boys wrote quote returning soldiers. We return. We returned from fighting. We return fighting, make way for democracy. We saved it in France and by the great Jehovah
We will see that in the United States of America or know the reason why, but this was not the war Why am I being referenced in terms of how it affected civil rights? That distinction always sweeps that goes to world war, to the biggest reason for this is that it is much easier to frame well worth to you as a more positive story following were to returning black veterans added their voices to a growing grass me grassroots movement, all over the nation which coalesced into what we know is the civil rights movement today, and although there is definitely a violent backlash and lots of resistance, that was a hallmark took part movement. It did eventually led to civil rights legislation that was meant to help put black Americans on a more equal footing. That's an over simplified way too we're a war to, but no amount of over simplification can put the years. Blowing world war into such a positive light
One ended on November, eleventh of nineteen eighteen, the following summer, violence broke out all over the United States, driven by a number of social and economic fact. There's, one was a backlash against advocacy for equal treatment of african Americans, especially as others began to view this movement as militant, but also in play, was return of soldiers who had fought in the war colliding with what is known as the great migration so emigrate. My basin, which peak three nineteen fourteen nineteen, twenty huge numbers african Americans living in the south moved north. Many of them were fleeing poverty and social and political oppression. People who had been living as sharecroppers in the south moved north to get industrial jobs, many of which were tied to the war effort in the hope of getting better incomes
our freedom, so this dramatically shifted the racial landscape and many northern cities. This also meant that many white veterans in the north returned home to find their industrial jobs had been filled by black workers, who had moved up from the south returning soldiers of all races and ethnicities wound up in competition we shrinking supply of jobs. As a result of these and many other factors, the summer of nineteen nineteen was so violent and so deadly that it came to be known as red summer. Eighty three people, known to have been launched in nineteen nineteen from sixty four and nineteen eighteen who collects clan activity also spread, especially in the south And then there were what is often described as race riots which broke out in Washington Dc Chicago. Oh, my,
Knoxville and many other cities. However, as we discussed in our episode on the Tulsa race Riot and Black Wall Street, the term race riot is often a misnomer, because it suggests racial violence in which the races involved or equal aggressors. It was a misnomer. During destruction of black Wall Street and Tulsa, and it was a misnomer during red summer. Over Well, mainly the instigators and red summer white citizens and overwhelmingly black people, along with their homes, businesses and entire neighborhoods, were the victims one of the most dramatic moments. midsummer took place that July when a riot broke out in Chicago after a black teenager drowned, he had been using a cost, merrily whites only beach and people did not like that and they stoned him. So he drowned after being stand as a result. To this particular riot, almost forty people were killed, five hundred were injured and about.
I wasn't. Black families were left homeless after a white mob, burned their homes down the last major event in red summer actually took place in October. Any Lane Arkansas black sharecroppers, attempting to organise themselves to advocate for better treatment were massacred by a white mob somewhere between one hundred and two hundred lack sharecroppers were killed in the aftermath. Many more black sharecroppers were arrested and jailed many were put on trial and some are sentenced to death by all white juries. Even though had actually been the victims and not the instigators. So that's why even their world, where one inspired a groundswell of organised advocacy for equal rights for black citizens, it doesn't come to the forefront very often and its also not a particularly good place to end this episode. So we are going to turn back to the story of Henry Johnson for a moment. So there is widespread belief that jobs and receive
no disability compensation from the government, because the clerical error in his discharge papers and that he died in obscure poverty so while the last part of that is actually sadly mostly true, the first part does hold up under examination of the records news. Articles and military records from the time indicate that Johnson was a patient at Walter Reed Hospital that he received a disability statement, siphoned off Ninety dollars a month which would not have been a lot of money, but was their most of this misinformation stems from the fact that Herman Johnson, who served with a dusky airman seems to have mistakenly genuinely believed that Henry Johnson was his father. He gave interviews about his father's life that were based on his own knowledge, which was actually incomplete and when did die at a sadly young age of my occurred, Idas after having had a series of complications with the many injuries he sustained and combat, along with tuberculosis,
He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honours. On July fifth of nineteen, twenty nine, the sight of his grey was actually lost until two thousand too. In the intervening years, his family had believed that he was actually buried in an anonymous grave in Albany in part because they had lost touch with him and in part, because the army made a clerical error in the name of who was buried in the grave Henry Johnson was posthumously awarded a purple heart, which is for soldiers who were wounded or killed in action and ninety ninety six. It didn't actually exist yet when he was wounded and two thousand three after the location of his grey was found. He was also awarded the distinguished service cross and he was posthumously. Permit to sergeant after finding a memo from General John Jay Pershing describing Johnson's Valori deeds in the database. Senator Charles Shimmer of New York started a petition to Heaven posthumously awarded the medal of Honor Sergeant Henry
Johnson was awarded the medal of honor on June. Second, twenty fifteen. It was accepted on his behalf by command sergeant major Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard. His official citation end quote private Johnson's, extraordinary heroism and selflessness, above and beyond. The call of duty are in keeping with the highest visions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself his unit and the United States Army, and there is also a cool graphic novel about the whole thing. I think it is probably call its by MAX Brics who has done a lot of other graphic novel, some of them not historically related at all. I did check it out from the library I have not yet had time read it for recording this episode, but it looks really kid so that is a rough one. It is. It was kind of a man during story through- and I think I might have said this in the show before we have three categories of sad episodes right. We have the ones that we know we're gonna be set
and then we get into it, and we realise that the last sadder than we thought and that we have that we know we're gonna, be really sad that we are doing them, because we think it important or maybe a lot of people have asked us to do it, and then we have the ones that are like today, which is that I pick something because it sounds cool and then I get into it got all this is this is hurting me, so I had picked the Harlem how fighters, based on probably like a blind person or a tumbler post or something somewhere. That was about this really amazing. All black fighting, regiment and road, or one how great they were, and how much valor and bravery they exhibited in how awesome nose like what you want to talk about those guys, and then I was oh dear, but this sat all sad things are happening. Histories power, those surprise
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