The 369th United States Infantry, nicknamed the “Harlem Hellfighters,” was the first African American regiment of troops to reach the battlefields of World War I. The 369th Regiment was formed from the 15th New York National Guard Regiment and was recognized as part of the U.S. Army on July 15th, 1917. The regiment arrived in Brest, France on January 1st, 1918, being the first African American U.S. soldiers to arrive in France and initially assigned to dam building and stevedores in charge of loading and unloading cargo. The 369th Regiment, due to racial tension within the US Army was assigned to the French Army for the duration of US involvement in WWI. The 369th were the first Allied troops of the war to reach the banks of the Rhine. Upon completion of the 369th’s service in the war, the regiment had spent 191 days in combat, the longest of any American regiment. The entire 369th Regiment, in appreciation for their actions in the Maison-en-Champagne campaign, was given the Croix de Guerre, a medal awarded by the French Government for acts of bravery in conflicts against the enemy. In addition to this honor, 171 individual members of the 369th Regiment were awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor. The 369th Regiment finished their service in Europe and returned to the US in February 1919.From "2011.108 Acquisition Justification," written by John Lutz, 7/13/2011; Approved by Michèle Gates Moresi as public caption 07/05/2016.
In 1891, the Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins opened the Jenkins Orphanage for African American boys in Charleston, South Carolina. Unable to provide for the growing number of boys under his care, Rev. Jenkins asked members of the Charleston community to donate used musical instruments with the intention of raising money for the orphanage by forming a travelling band. Wearing discarded Citadel uniforms, the band performed a mix of military marches, folk tunes, and ragtime throughout the United States and in Europe. The band played in the inaugural parades of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. They also appeared at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and the 1914 Anglo-American Exposition, where they performed for members of the British Royal Family.