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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Harlem Hellfighters

Posted By: Anthony Powell
Saturday, 9 August 2003, at 9:21 a.m.
In Response To:
Re: Harlem Hellfighters (Tony Dorty)

Hello, again Tony your words are this subject touch me deeply, I have had the chance to interview many soldiers like my grandfather who shared with me so much about life and being who and what I am today. For the last 7 and half years my exhibit of pictures taken by my grandfather during his years of military service called Buffalo Soldiers 1866-1912 has been viewed by almost 1,000,000 people coast to coast one of the big disappointments has been the turn out of our people! It has been very small maybe less than 30% makes one wonder do we appreciate what our grandparents did for us or have we forgotten? The next lines are from Book #3 of a series I have done called "For The Love Of Liberty."
White America’s racial concepts began to manifest themselves in many aspects of American life, even to the most routine after the turn of the century. The army too was affected by the social changes. The daily activities of black soldiers was usually no different from those of white soldiers, but little by little the differences began to appear. In spite of this change for the worse, blacks continued to be attracted to the army. There were many reasons why people of both races enlisted in the army of this period, financial considerations were one. For example black retired Staff Sergeant Jesse Coleman said this.”I worked in Baltimore, at a livery stable with a colored man who had served during the Spanish American War, “He said, “If I joined the army for one enlistment and saved my money, at the end of three years I, could have enough to start my own business. I saved during my first year in the army (1913), four hundred dollars, we only made thirteen dollars and twenty-five cents a month.”7 Former Spanish-American War soldier Samuel N. Waller, said that he was told that”if he joined the army he could earn as much as a man $1.10 a day so me and two friends caught a fright train to Ohio’s coal mining district and two weeks later were enlisted into the Army.”8
For other young men, like John H. Allen, who served in the 6th Virginia, Volunteer’s and the 48th Volunteer Infantry said he joined with a “romantic view of the army and a desire to travel and see the world,” 9 and Retired Master Sergeant Richard Johnson, had this to say about his enlisting in the army: “I tried to join the Navy in 1898 and was unsuccessful, the Navy recruiter a Marine Major named Biddle, sent me to the army recruiting station, he pointed out the advantage of joining the army under a short term enlistment agreement, which would be an advantage to a beginner, also it would give me an opportunity for travel which he discerned was my main urge to join the navy. With this kindly advice I acquired a new perspective toward army life. “My aimless wandering seemed about at its end, and I lost no time making my way to the local army recruiting office.”10
But for many black men, there was an additional reason, in civilian society black soldiers as opposed to black civilians were not relegated to a position of total subservience. Samuel N. Waller said “ that joining the army gave him the only part of the American dream that America the nation would let him share in.”When George Schulyer, enlisted in the 25th Infantry, he made this comment as to why he joined the army.”I became convinced that there was no future for me in my hometown, the colored people seemed to be in a rut and I did not want to stay down there with them.”The United States Army seemed to be the choice for me.”11 Retired Master Sergeant John Campbell, said that he joined the army in 1911 because “I wanted to be somebody if I had my life to live over again I would go back into the army because I loved it, and it made me somebody.”12
For soldiers like Coleman, Johnson, Waller, Campbell and Schuyler, the army offered more than just drill and fatigue duty, for most black’s it offered a way out, and an opportunity to become a part of the system, Johnson had this say:”While I had gained a feeling of some slight importance upon taking the oath of enlistment this adornment in the soldier’s uniform, with a rifle in my hands, gave me a feeling of near exultation.”13 John Clarke a Retired black Warrant Officer made this comment about why he joined the army in 1907:”I liked the uniform, and the feeling it gave me.” 14 George Schulyer was even more graphic about his reason.”I never saw any colored person in any position of authority in Syracuse, until the U.S. Army held maneuvers in the area around 1909, and several companies of black soldiers were camped in a large park where traveling circus usually performed. The black Infantry and Cavalrymen were something else again.We were impressed by their superb order and discipline, their haughty and immaculate non-commissioned officers, and their obvious authority. The soldiers, represented the power and the authority of the United States.” 15
The army offered schooling for those soldiers whose schooling had been retarded or even non-existent, it should be noted that most black soldiers of this period could read and write, but the education of many had not gone beyond that. Black soldiers could still show off his military skill in competition on company, regimental and army level. Among the different events were pistol and rifle marksmen ship in which black’s continued to be outstanding, broad sword, horse training, marching drill, bayonet, and tent pitching contest.
George Schuyler, helps us understand why black soldiers excelled in Pistol and rifle competitions he said. “Our men trained like athletes for target practice, giving up smoking and drinking for the period, and getting much sleep. They went out on the target range, sharpeyed and iron nerved. This was necessary in order to insure high scores in slow and rapid fire at 200, 300 and 500 yards, kneeling, sitting and prone, and for the longer distances of 800 and 1,000 yards where the slightest tremor of the muscles or lack of breath control would put one entirely off target. Almost all the men in B Company were either expert riflemen, sharpshooters or marksmen and wore the appropriate silver medals, which respectively add five, three or two dollars to their monthly pay. When the regiment passed in review the silver medals made a long flash in the sun.”16

Messages In This Thread

Harlem Hellfighters
Re: Harlem Hellfighters
Re: Harlem Hellfighters

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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