27 December 1917 The 369th Infantry Regiment (or "Harlem Hellfighters") was the first all-black U.S. combat unit to be shipped overseas during WWI. Unfortunately, this distinction was the result of a violent racial incident in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The unitís unquenchable desire to win justice and avenge a physical attack on their drum major, Noble Sissle, ultimately forced the War Department to send them to Europe. Because there was no official combat role at this time for Americaís black soldiers, General John J. Pershing responded to Franceís request for troops by assigning the 369th (and the 93rd Divisionís other regiments) to the French army. The Germans dubbed the unit the "Hellfighters," because in 191 days of duty at the front they never had any men captured nor ground taken. Almost one-third of the unit died in combat. The French government awarded the entire regiment the Croix de Guerre.
Sergeant Henry Johnson was the first African American to win this prestigious award when he singlehandedly saved Private Needham Roberts and fought off a German raiding party.
1918 The 369th Infantryís regimental band, conducted by noted black musician and composer James Reese Europe, was credited with introducing American jazz to France and the rest of Europe. The band traveled throughout France in the early months of this year, giving concerts that featured this uniquely African-American music. Black musicians in other regiments also helped to spread an appreciation for jazz to Europeís civilian population.