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Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for Equality (Modern War Studies) Hardcover – April 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A book that readers of military history will cherish and general readers and lovers of history will find informative. It is both a reference book and an important historical narrative that lays the ground for the civil rights movement."--New World Review

"Belongs on the shelf of any serious student of the 15th/369th Regiment, American involvement in World War I, race relations in the early twentieth century, and African American history."--Journal of Military History

"From a literary viewpoint, [the book] is a masterpiece of scholarly research. . . . A pleasurable read. Like a vintage wine, Harlem's Rattlers and the Great War is a reading experience to be savored."--African American Golfer's Digest

"This book is the definitive history of the 369th Regiment in World War I, an outstanding black infantry regiment comprised of 3,000 men led by a white command element. It is the most complete, scholarly, and fully documented account of this famous (and underpublicized) unit, unlikely to be superseded. The authors, both prominent historians, re renowned experts in their fields."--Joint Force Quarterly

"Librarians need to make room for Sammons and Morrow's study because their work delves quite deeply into the background of the regiment's formation, the culture of the early-20th-century Harlem, and the complex issues surrounding the formation of an African American fighting unit in an era when Jim Crow was a dominant feature of the US and supported by the federal government from its president on down. Essential."--Choice

"A thoroughly researched, carefully argued, and lucidly written history. By examining the challenges faced by this African American regiment on World War battlefields and in the arenas of political power in New York City, Albany, and Washington, D.C., the authors provide important insights not only into the black experience but also into the military history of the nation. This is undoubtedly one of the best books published in recent years on American military history."—Robert A. Doughty, author of Pyrrhic Victory: French Strategy and Operations in the Great War

"The history of the 369th Infantry Regiment has finally been told. Jeffrey T. Sammons and John H. Morrow, Jr., with this remarkable work of collaborative scholarship and meticulous research, have produced the definitive account of the most famous African American fighting unit in World War I."—Chad Williams, author of Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era

About the Author

Jeffrey T. Sammons is professor in the Department of History at New York University and the author of Beyond the Ring: The Role of Boxing in American Society. John H. Morrow, Jr., Franklin Professor of History at the University of Georgia, is the author of several books, including The Great War: An Imperial History.
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern War Studies
  • Hardcover: 630 pages
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas; 1St Edition edition (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0700619577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0700619573
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Hamilton Fish on May 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The authors, both eminent historians, depict the epic struggle to transform a New York State Guard unit composed almost entirely of black soldiers into a one of the most decorated regiments of the United States Army in World War I. Harlem's Rattlers is an absorbing book, a work of deeply important and distinguished scholarship, nuanced in its exploration and handling of the layers and layers of contradictory and incomplete accounts that are the natural character of all history.

The pith of this book is the ferocious and unending drama of race, the core narrative that tracks the American experience. Harlem's Rattlers is an engrossing social history, brimming with humor, irony, courage on a grand scale and the small acts of human decency and painful betrayal that are the grist of the wartime narrative. Men skirmish in the legislature, manipulate the media, get trampled in the military bureaucracy, compete ruthlessly for recognition and at every turn the underlying racial dynamic shapes their behavior and deforms the culture.

The integration of the armed forces was a focal point of the civil rights cause for the first half of the twentieth century. Sammons and Morrow have given us a panoramic tale, rich in its evocation of the strains of class, ambition, patriotism, bravery and prejudice that run deep in the American story.
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Format: Hardcover
There are perhaps few WWI regiments more mythologized than the subject of this comprehensive volume, the 369th, also known as Harlem’s Rattlers. As Sammons and Morrow delve into the history of this “undaunted” group of black soldiers, they not only present landmark historical scholarship on WWI, race, and politics in America, but also do the important work of bringing the voices of the men of the 369th themselves to the forefront of their own history. The title, for instance, rejects the more widely known nickname “Harlem Hellfighters” in favor of the one preferred by the soldiers themselves. An especially compelling detail was an appendix with the full names of the regiment’s fallen, a gesture by the authors that demonstrates their sincere respect for the men of the 369th.

Ultimately, Sammons and Morrow are concerned with the idea of military service as a path to freedom and equality for blacks in the United States. With engaging presentation and thorough research, the authors delve into this 20th century struggle – complete with its acts of heroism, bitter political conflicts, and the frustrations of bureaucracy – and draw from a fascinating array of official documents, letters, personal accounts, and other interesting sources. The result is both a vivid, personal portrayal of the bravery and determination of the 369th on the battlefield and the struggle they faced as black veterans upon return in a rapidly changing America.

Bolstered by both unparalleled historical scholarship on the regiment and a commitment to the honoring of its memory, Harlem’s Rattlers is the definitive guide to the 369th, a book for both serious historians and any reader who appreciates the human capacity for courage in the face of war and adversity.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an important book, not just for military history or "black" history, but for shining a light on the struggle for equality during that little examined period between Jim Crow and the civil rights movement.

The way the authors juxtapose what the various actors verifiably said or did, next to the various reports (both official and personal) of what they said or did, next to the broader societal reports of what they said or did (e.g. black newspapers and magazines and white racist newspapers), next to the myth that developed over time of what they said or did is so revealing. This rich tapestry shows convincingly that the historical facts and the historical truth are two separate things. The latter takes the former, and through some sort of human alchemy of competing agendas, stereotypes, paternalism, racism, ignorance, hate, fear, racial aspirations, politics, and power creates the mythical picture of the past. If we are presented with all these shapers of the record, as these authors do with the 369th, we get as close to the truth that we can ever come.

There is much new material on the so-called "Battle of Sgt. Henry Johnson" and proper recognition of this heroic soldier, but this book puts that battle into a much broader context.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This story is far more than a tale of an African American combat regiment in the First World War. The sub-title reflects the breadth of this work. It spans a hundred years of history and illustrates the ongoing struggles of black America to gain its place in US society. It is extraordinarily well documented with admirable attention to detail. It clarifies history that has been distorted intentionally and unintentionally. It is an excellent read for anyone interested in African American history. It is more of a social history than a military history, but still carries details that a student of military history will appreciate. The focus on New York City, Harlem and NY politics provides an intriguing perspective on the divisions within the African American community as it grapples with racism. It also shows the hypocrisy of many political leaders, black and white. The authors' passion for the subject is demonstrated by their exhaustive research which is both broad and deep. This book fills a gap for serious scholars and goes far beyond simple war stories and adventures. I could hardly put it down.
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