Act in Relation to the Organization of a Colored Regiment in the City of New York

(1913)

In 1913 the New York State Legislature passed An Act to Amend the Military Law, in Relation to the Organization and Equipment of a Colored Regiment of Infantry in the City of New York, creating an African American National Guard unit, later known as the “Harlem Hell Fighters.” The regiment played a crucial role in World War I. During the German spring offensive of 1918, the Harlem Hell Fighters were often the only regiment between the Germans and Paris, France. The New York law was a key legislative milestone in the struggle for African Americans to have equal opportunities to serve in the armed forces.

Article XI of New York’s fourth constitution, passed in 1894, required that the state maintain a military force of “not less than ten thousand enlisted men, fully uniformed, armed, equipped, disciplined and ready for active service.” In response to an incursion into New Mexico by the renegade Mexican revolutionary general Pancho Villa in March 1916, almost all of New York’s...

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Poster of African American soldiers in World War I (Library of Congress)

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