In 1919, the 369th infantry regiment marched home triumphantly from World War I. They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations. Though they returned as heroes, this African American unit faced tremendous discrimination, even from their own government. The Harlem Hellfighters, as the Germans called them, fought courageously on—and off—the battlefield to make Europe, and America, safe for democracy. (goodreads.com)
Take a graphic look at an unfortunately little-known piece of our history with THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS. Random House/Blogging for Books sent this to me for review and I’m glad they did. I knew about the all black regiment although I thought it was World War II (which there was one). I didn’t know about this one and I opened my eyes right up.
The story is fantastic and deftly illustrates just what these soldiers went through on the battle field and at home. They didn’t have any support from the American public, they barely had support from their own government (and that’s being generous) and yet they still maintained their will to fight for a country that wanted to hold them down. It’s truly amazing.
The illustrations are great and rather gruesome at times. The book doesn’t shy away from depicting war in all its brutality. I do wish it was colorized, through. There were some panels that were a little hard for me to interpret because the black and white blended together a little too good in some scenes. But overall that did little to detract from the story and getting the full impact of what these men went through.
It’s difficult for me to imagine just how hindered they were for no other reason than because of their skin color. There were people of all colors that supported them, of course, but it was such a sliver compared to the wider picture. The things these men volunteered to do, the feats they accomplished ahead of their white counterparts, were just truly amazing and it’s a story that everyone should know about. Talk about overcoming adversity. These guys did it in spades.
It’s a graphic novel so it’s a quick read but it’s one that’ll stick with you, both in word and image. It’ll make you want to learn more about the 369th infantry and it puts their struggle into an even greater perspective. Before the Civil Rights Movement there were these guys who wanted nothing more than to persevere when everyone wanted nothing more than to keep them down. They didn’t take no for an answer and they accomplished so much because of it. And Brooks does an excellent job of relaying that story to you. He throws you right into it, doesn’t sugar coat anything and makes you see this brutal slice of our history that so many people don’t seem to want to remember.