National Archives at Kansas City

Press Release: March 3, 2014

National Archives at Kansas City

Jeffrey Sammons and John Morrow to Discuss Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War at the National World War I Museum

For More Information Contact:
Kimberlee Ried, 816-268-8072

Kansas City, (MO)…On Monday, April 7 at 6:30 p.m., the National Archives at Kansas City in partnership with the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, will present Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality by Jeffrey Sammons and John Morrow. A 6:00 p.m. reception will precede the program.

On May 15, 1918, a French lieutenant warned Henry Johnson of the 369th to move back because of a possible enemy raid, Johnson reportedly replied: "I'm an American, and I never retreat." The story, even if apocryphal, captures the mythic status of the Harlem Rattlers, the African American combat unit that grew out of the 15th New York National Guard, who were said to have never lost a man to capture or a foot of ground that had been taken. With historical precision and unparalleled research this book will likely stand as the definitive study of the 369th. Though discussed in numerous histories and featured in popular culture (most famously the film Stormy Weather and the novel Jazz), the 369th has become more a matter of mythology than grounded, factually accurate history.

Harlem’s Rattlers eschews the regiment's famous nickname, the "Harlem Hellfighters," a name never embraced by the unit itself. 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. From its beginnings in the 15th New York National Guard through its training in the explosive atmosphere in the South, its singular performance in the French army during World War I, and the pathos of postwar adjustment this new publication reveals as never before the details of the Harlem Rattlers experience. The book explores in depth the poignant history of some of its heroes, its place in the story of both World War I and the African American campaign for equality, and its full importance in our understanding of American history.

To make a reservation for this free program call 816-268-8010 or email kansascity.educate@nara.gov. The authors will be available to sign copies of the book after the program. Copies of Harlem’s Rattlers will be available for purchase in the Museum store.

The National Archives at Kansas City is one of 13 facilities nationwide where the public has access to Federal archival records. It is home to more than 50,000 cubic feet of historical records dating from the 1820s to the 1990s created or received by nearly 100 Federal agencies. Serving the Central Plains Region, the archives holds records from the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The facility is located at 400 West Pershing Road, Kansas City, MO 64108. It is open to the public Tuesday - Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for research, with the exhibits open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 816-268-8000 or visit us online.

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial is the only American museum solely dedicated to examining the personal experiences of a war whose impact still echoes in the world today. The National World War I Museum holds the most diverse collection of World War I objects and documents in the world and is the second-oldest public museum dedicated to preserving the objects, history and experiences of the war. The Museum takes visitors on an epic journey through a transformative period and shares deeply personal stories of courage, honor, patriotism and sacrifice. Designated by Congress as America’s official World War I Museum and located in downtown Kansas City, Mo., the National World War I Museum inspires thought, dialogue and learning to make the experiences of the Great War era meaningful and relevant for present and future generations. To learn more, visit www.theworldwar.org.

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LPM/LE-RM 14-012

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