SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY (04/16/2014)-- They're known popularly as the Harlem Hellfighters, but the African-American members of the New York National Guard's 369th Infantry identified themselves instead as the Harlem Rattlers, and made the rattlesnake their unit emblem.
Historian Jeffrey Sammons, co-author of a new book on the 369th "Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality" outlines the history of the unit and it's place in the larger struggle for black equality during a free talk at the New York State Military Museum on Saturday April 26.
Sammons presentation takes place at 2 p.m.
Sammons is a professor in the Department of History at New York University and the author of Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society. His co-author John H. Morrow, Jr., is the Franklin Professor of History at the University of Georgia and the author of several books, including The Great War: An Imperial History.
In their book the two men explore the role of the unit--originally known as the 15th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard-in African-American history. The men of the unit identified themselves as Americans, even when they faced racism at home.
The story of the 369th- an all black unit with some white officers which fought under French command-has seeped into popular culture: most recently with the publication of the graphic novel the "The Harlem Hellfighters" by World War Z author Max Brooks.
Sammons and Morrow's book, though, goes beyond the myth to look at the reality of the 15th New York and the men who served.
Combining the "fighting focus" of military history with the insights of social commentary, Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War reveals the centrality of military service and war to the quest for equality as it details the origins, evolution, combat exploits, and postwar struggles of the 369th.
The authors take up the internal dynamics of the regiment as well as external pressures, paying particular attention to the environment created by the presence of both black and white officers in the unit. They also explore the role of women--in particular, the Women's Auxiliary of the 369th--as partners in the struggle for full citizenship.
The New York State Military Museum is located at 61 Lake Avenue in Saratoga Springs. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information contact New York State Military Museum Director Courtney Burns at 518-581-5101.