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THE INTERPRETATION OF THE PAST IN ITS OWN CONTEXT.
It’s a history that has been largely forgotten, even though some monumental physical traces remain. The 8th Illinois National Guard Regiment, which during the great war (WWI 1914-1918) came to be known as the 370th U.S. Infantry, was the only regiment in the entire United States Army that was called into service with almost a complete complement of Negro officers from the highest rank of Colonel to the lowest rank of Corporal. Yet few people know about this unit of young Negro men from Illinois who fought for a country that beat, lynched, and discriminated against them and people who looked like them.
- At Chicago, Illinois-Headquarters, Headquarters Company, Machine Gun Company, Supply Company, Detachment Medical Department, and Companies A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H.
- At Springfield, Illinois---Company I.
- At Peoria, Illinois---Company K.
- At Danville, Illinois---Company L.
- At Metropolis, Illinois---Company M.
|The French Croix de Guerre Medal|
Negro soldiers that returned to America found a country just as racist as before. In fact, the situation was in many ways worse. Many soldiers in the 370th were from the cultural hotbed Bronzeville neighborhood in the Douglas community of Chicago, which had swelled in population from the Great Migration. More people meant less economic opportunities for the returning soldiers, and also helped bring simmering racial tension in the city to a boil.
Soon after the 370th came home, the 1919 Chicago Race Riots broke out, resulting in the deaths of 38 people and the injury of hundreds more. Having fought to defend their country in Europe, Chicago Negro soldiers now fought to defend their community from hatred in their country. “These soldiers went off to war, where they knew they wouldn’t be respected, and represented Bronzeville,” Tharpe says. “They fought for rights and democracy by going to war, and then didn’t get justice or their due when they came home.”
The 370th also fought in World War II (1939-1945).
But even that symbol has lost much of its significance. “Even though I lived in Bronzeville and drove past the Victory Monument nearly every day, I was absolutely not familiar with the 370th,” Tharpe says.
|Victory Monument at 35th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Chicago.|
The General Richard L. Jones Armory at 52nd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue is named for an officer of the 370th, General Jones, who managed both the Chicago Defender and the Chicago Bee Newspapers, and later was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Liberia.
|The General Richard L. Jones Armory at 52nd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago|