Respect Equality

The Harlem Hellfighters awarded Congressional Gold Medal a century late

harlem hellfighters congressional medal honor bill schumer black maericans world war i soldiers fighting
A helmet from the World War I Harlem Hellfighters is on display during a press preview at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC on September 14, 2016. PRESTON KERES/AFP via Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • The Harlem Hellfighters were an infantry unit of all-Black American soldiers who served in World War I.
  • They will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously.

A group of war heroes was posthumously honored last week, as President Biden signed H.R.3642 into law on Aug. 25, awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to the World War I 369th Infantry Regiment, popularly known as the Harlem Hellfighters.

The bill, first introduced by House Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.) in May 2021, awarded Congressional Gold Medals to each of the infantry members. 

It acquired 311 co-sponsors in the House, and another 71 in the Senate version, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who held a ceremony in August announcing the bill alongside other Senate sponsors.



The Harlem Hellfighters have gained renewed recognition over the last few years. Per the National Museum of African American History, the unit was assigned to fight under the 16th Division of the French army during the first World War because white American soldiers refused to fight alongside them.

One of the more legendary victories included Private Henry Johnson and Private Needham Roberts who fought off a large German patrol despite being injured and out of ammunition. 

The French government beat the U.S. government in recognizing the bravery of the regiment in 1918, awarding the Croix de Guerre medal to 171 members. Suozzi said they saw more combat time than any other regiment during World War I. 

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” he said following the bill’s ratification, thanking both Chambers for setting aside partisan differences and “righting a centuries-old wrong.”

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