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The Harlem Hellfighters 

A study guide 
 
Historical Context 
 
The Harlem Hellfighters were a WWI unit that was sent to France to fight. 
Labels as the bronze warriors by the french out of admiration and called the harlem 
hellfighters by the germans out of fear. Sent to South Carolina, one of the first states to 
succeed out of the union to train from the war which meant that the training that they 
received included quite a bit of prejudice. 
 
Vocabulary 
 
 
Genocide (p. 5)- T ​ he deliberate killing  Regimental (p. 28)- r​ elating to a 
of a large group of people, specifically  regiment. 
thse of a particular ethnic group/nation  Minstrel (p. 31)-​ a medieval singer or 
Ottoman Empire (p.5)-​ The Turkish  musician who sung/recited lyric or 
Dynasty   poetry to a musical accompaniment for 
Flammenwerfer (p. 6)-​ One-man  the nobility. 
German flamethrower used to clear out  Genesis (p. 32)-​ the origin or mode of 
trenches and buildings  formation of something. 
Isolationism (p. 9)- a​ policy of  Mutiny (p. 40)-​ rebellion against proper 
remaining apart from the affairs or  authorities  
interests of other groups, especially the  U-boat (p. 64)- a​ german submarine 
political affairs of other countries.  used in WWI and WWII 
Crusade (p.10)- t​ o lead/take part in an  Influenza (p. 84)- ​highly contagious 
energetic and organized campaign  viral infection of the respiratory 
concerning a social, political, or  passages causing fever, severe aching, 
religious issue  and catarrh, and often occurring in 
Izibungu (p. 21)- A ​ word derived from  epidemics 
the African language. Often used in the  Pneumonia (p. 84)- L ​ ung inflammation 
phrase, “Ikhiwane elihle ligcwala  caused by bacterial or viral infection 
izibungu” which means “The nice fig is  Kaiserschlacht (p. 89)- 1​ 918 Spring 
often full of worms”  Offensive, also known as the Kaiser’s 
Patriotism (p. 23)- ​The quality of being  Battle. 
patriotic. Devotion and support for one’s  Magazines (p. 91)-​ ​A chamber for 
country.  holding a supply of cartridges to be fed 
Traverses (p. 25)- ​to move along, pass.   automatically to the breech of a gun. 
Shell Shock (p. 101)-​ the psychological  Boche Plane (p. 112)- ​a german plane, it 
disturbance caused by prolong exposure  was a contemptuous term that was used 
to active warfare, especially with  to talk about German soldiers in WWI 
bombardment.  and WWII. 
No-Mans-Land (p. 102)- u ​ noccupied  Trenches (p. 114)- ​a long narrow ditch. 
land between two parties that are left  Listening Post (p. 121)- ​a station for 
open due to fear and uncertainty  intercepting electronic communications 
Intuthwane (p. 105)- a​ nt or insect  Phosgene (p. 140)- ​an organic chemical 
Cooties (p. 108) - b
​ ody lice or louse  compound, used as “mustard gas”. It 
Bombardment (p. 113)- c​ ontinuous  causes nausea and vomiting. 
attack with bombs, shells, or other   
missiles.   
 
Timeline 
 
 
 
France 1918 (3) - T
​ he book opens up stating that the story of the Harlem Hellfighters by 
disclaiming the propaganda that was used to recruit people for war. Mark, the main 
character, discusses the mistreatment and racism within America versus the praise that 
the Harlem Hellfighters got in France. Beginning with the western front, the comic 
opens with brutal scenes of war depicting war, dead bodies, machine guns, and even 
mentioning it as genocide. There is a clear bias against the President Wilson as he 
didn’t want to be part of the war. Many Americans didn’t want to go there themselves, 
so they forced African Americans to do it. The two pieces of propaganda that America 
threw at the american people was that WWI was the “war to end all wars” (1) and that 
the “world must be made safe for democracy” (11).  
 
April 2, 1917 (11) - ​Thomas Woodrow Wilson told congress that “the world must be safe 
for democracy” (11). The 16th New York Regiment. The unit was labeled as being a 
“colored unit”.  
 
(15) We are introduced to David Edwad Scott, Henry Johnson, and Desmond Scatliffe. 
Scatliffe gets punched by Wayne Edge, but gets stopped by soldiers.  
 
(22) White officers were typically the ones who led colored units. However, there was 
still many prejudices against them from white officers.  
 
 
Camp Whitman, Dutchess 
County, NT, July 1917 (24)- T ​ he troops begin to train but only for a span of a couple of 
weeks. Lieutenant James Reese was revealed to be one of the commanders of both the 
army as well as the band.  
 
(34) The white soldiers had the privilege of wearing a uniform and training with actual 
fire arms, meanwhile the colored unit trained with broomsticks. 
 
(35) It was revealed that the shortage of military rifles were because of the war 
department gave them away for free to a private rifle club. Claiming that they were 
improving their marksmanship before the war. So, the colored unit had to request guns 
from the war department as fake rifle clubs.  
 
October 1917 (37) - ​The colored unit was sent off of South Carolina to finish up training 
that they have only been doing for a couple of weeks, while white troops trained for 
many months. A couple of weeks earlier there was an incident regarding white people 
engaging in violence against African American people. So, naturally going towards the  
 
(40) South was terrifying. 16 white people died, and 4 black people. 13 black people were 
hanged for mutiny, even if it was for self defense.  
 
(41) Colonel WIlliam Hayward told the soldiers that no matter what there was no 
confrontation against the local populace, as it would taint their image. And African 
American people were told that they were not allowed.  
 
(45) Throughout their whole stay, there was so much prejudice against them, but they 
couldn’t do anything about it.  
 
(53) Due to the inability to fight back, the African American soldiers had to rely on 
white soldiers that were also stationed there to fight against racism. But all this did was 
make them feel degraded.  
 
(58) Deployment orders came through for France and everyone was excited to leave their 
own country.  
 
(61) Boats were used to send the soldiers, many got sea sick. It is revealed that the 
soldiers were thrown a parade before being deployed in New York, but prejudice was 
held against them as people claimed “black wasn’t part of the rainbow”. 
 
(64 - 68) U-boats were used by the germans to target boats, in an effort to dodge them, 
the boats had to sail in a zigzag pattern, emphasizing seasickness.  
 
(74) Russia made peace with Germany. 
 
January 1918 (80) - G ​ oing into France was a culture shock as they realized they could 
live as everyone else did, without prejudice.  
 
(85) The soldiers find out their commander died from Pneumonia, but walking into the 
treatment area just goes to show them the types of injuries many of the soldiers had 
 
March 1918 (90) - G ​ eneral Henri Gouraud, a french general, welcomed the troops. 
Corporal Saul Fabius had been fighting in the war since August 1914 and gives the 
troops some general knowledge about being in the trenches.  
 
(95) Mark’s friend made the mistake of peaking over the trench and gets headshot from 
a german sniper.  
 
(101) There were two types of death: death by gun and death of the mind called “shell 
shock”  
The routine of the soldiers were chores and training. Trade was used to make up for the 
inability to communicate.  
 
(108) Body lice was a huge problem within the trenches.  
 
(113) The troops got bombarded. Many guns were fired, people killed. 
 
(131) Thomas M. Johnson became one of the soldiers to receive the French c​ roix de gurre 
“cross of war” 
 
July 1918 (184) -  
 
February 17, 1919 - 
When the troops returned back to America, many were treated with disrespect. Some 
stayed in France, fearing the prejudice that would be held against them. But that was 
when the troop realized that WWI wasn’t the war that would end all wars.  
 
 
Characters 
 
Mark 
The person in which the perspective of the story is told.  
David Edward Scott 
(intro. 15) Killed on the first day in the trenches by a sniper. 
Private Desmond Scatlife 
From the Danish West Indies, just recently became a U.S. Territory. Danish West 
Indies became the U.S. Virgin Islands, so they couldn’t be citizens for another ten years.  
Sgt. Mandla 
First introduced in p.21. Noted by the author to be not real. 
Lt. Adams 
“An actual livin’ breathin’, in-the-flesh black officers” Noted by the author to be not 
real. A compilation of many African American officers at the time. 
Wayne Edge 
Started a fight ( introduced in 23). Very tempered. Noted by the author to be not real. 
 
Lt. James Reese Europe 

 
(intro. p.29). Known as the founding fathers of the great nation of Jazz. James Reese 
Europe was most famously known for his ragtime, jazz, and composing in the 1910s. 
Europe fought as the Lieutenant of the 369th Infantry Regiment. He performed all over 
France for french citizens.   
 
Dr. Samuel Johnson  
(intro p.31) One of the soldiers in the military’s band.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Col. William Hayward 

 
(intro. 41) Understood that even if mistreated, any physical contact with the local 
populace. The commander of the 369th Infantry Regiment. 
 
Capt. Little  
(intro 42)  
Capt. Marshall 
(intro 56) 
Sgt. Sissle 
(intro 56) 
Henry Lincoln Johnson 

 
Was one of the most prominent African-American Republicans. He was appointed by 
President William Howard Taft as Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia. 
 
Gen. Heri Gouraud 

 
(intro 90) Was a french commander of the French Expeditionary within WWI.  
 
Corp. Saul Fabius 
(intro 91)