“Oh Captain, My Captain.”
Remember The Dead Poets Society? The movie with Robin Williams? He took his students into the hallway to study vintage photos of long-gone students. “Can you hear them talking to you?”, he asked. “If you lean in real close, and listen, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary.” Well, that movie was awesome, but it was white as hell and this is Black History Bootcamp so this is what we want you to do. Look at the faces of The Harlem Hellfighters. Study them. Know that these Black men are the reason Germany surrendered.
They earned their name, The Harlem Hellfighters, by spending an unthinkable 191 days in all-out trench warfare. On the frontlines longer than any other American unit of World War I. They toured for over six months, the longest deployment of any and they – the 369th Regiment of Black men – made up less than 1% of the soldiers deployed yet they protected 20% of the territory assigned to the United States. And they lost more of their brothers – 1,500 lives – more than any other American regiment. And America used them as human decoys to defeat the Germans.
When they came home, America treated them with disdain, disrespect, like second-class citizens. Didn’t want them too proud. They might disrupt Jim Crow. And America refused to honor the greatest hero of the entire war, Henry Johnson (although the French gave him their highest medal of honor). So America, we won’t ask for your respect. No. Not then, not now. We gave these heroes our own parade in Harlem on February 17, 1919. …Welcome, home heroes.
Please think of them. And think of all who fought with valor – Crispus Attucks, The 54th Regiment, The Buffalo Soldiers, The Tuskegee Airmen, Vietnam Veterans – all of the men and women who in the armed forces today. Think about the frontline soldiers in our communities. The mail carriers and sanitation workers, essential Black people whose labor is the spine of American democracy. Think of Jacob Blake, a man who had to show up for his community this week to settle a dispute because the police are not safe to call.
And to all the men and women who fought to protect it, we make these solemn promises. We will never develop an appetite for war – because war is hell. Instead, we will thirst for PEACE, build moments to LOVE, and light fires of JUSTICE. We will honor the flag you defended by taking a knee anytime this country forgets the value of Black lives.
Join the second edition of GirlTrek’s Black History Bootcamp at blackhistorybootcamp.com to receive specially curated emails with inspiring words, survival tips, speeches + dedicated songs to listen to for each episode. Together we will discover the stories and explore the pivotal moments from some of the most powerful movements in Black history.
Disclaimer: We do not own the rights to the music played during this broadcast. Original content can be found here:
The Dramatics – Get Up and Get Down:
Brian Courtney Wilson – Worth Fighting For (Live):