Institute of African American Affairs
History Department
a two-part World War I program featuring

Randy Weston in concert celebrating the music of James Reese Europe
and a roundtable discussion on the combat unit “Harlem’s Rattlers”
November 9th & 10th, 2014

The Institute of African American Affairs (IAAA) at New York University and the New York University Department of History will host a two-evening program celebrating the music of James Reese Europe and examining the role and depiction of World War I’s 369th Regiment in popular culture and history.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  While President Woodrow Wilson urged the United States to enter the Great War in order to make the world “safe for democracy,” these democratic ideals were not evident in American society at large or the American military, which would remain segregated until the Korean War. But this state of affairs did not stop “Harlem’s Rattlers,” the African American combat unit that grew out of the 15th New York National Guard, from their appeals for a chance to see combat in Europe, where they eventually fought with the French army in WWI with great distinction.

The following two major public programs were produced to heighten awareness and understanding of the important yet undervalued role that military institutions and matters of war and peace have played in the African American freedom struggle and the quest for equality.  Perhaps no single military organization is more connected to the African American pursuit of full citizenship individually and collectively than New York’s own 369th Regiment.

Randy Weston African Rhythms Orchestra celebrates James Reese Europe and the 369th Regiment in concert   

Sunday, November 9, 2014

6:00 pm

NYU-Skirball Performing Arts Center  

566 LaGuardia Place (corner of LaGuardia Place and Washington Square South) NY, NY 10012


(Photo by Atane Ofiaja)

The opening session on Sunday, November 9, 2014, will celebrate the music of James Reese Europe and feature Randy Weston and his African Rhythms Orchestra in a tribute to Europe and the 369th Regiment.  A great musician, composer, and band director, Europe played a pivotal role in the recruitment efforts of the Regiment, served as an officer in its machine gun company, and is credited with spreading the “jazz germ” throughout the European continent.  There is no doubt that during and after the war, the band led by Lieutenant Europe and his successors contributed to the Regiment’s visibility and helped to preserve its legacy.   Moreover, Europe’s musical brilliance served as an inspiration for generations of musicians to follow, including Mr. Weston whose music and lived experience make him an invaluable expert and resource on the African Diaspora.  Coauthors Sammons and/or Morrow will briefly place James Reese Europe in historical context.

Ticket price(s):
-Regular $15;
-NYU students, faculty, staff and administrators $10;
-Non-NYU Students $12;
-Seniors $10

For ticket information please call 888-611-8183 or visit online at

“Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War in Popular Culture and Historical Context” roundtable discussion

Monday, November 10, 2014

5:00 pm  

Kimmel Center – NYU

Room – E&L Auditorium, 4th floor

60 Washington Square South, NY, NY  10012


Monday, November 10, 2014, features a screening of the documentary film, Men of Bronze: The Black American Heroes of World War I produced by the late William Miles.  This fine 1977 documentary remains critical to preserving the popular memory of the Regiment.   The screening will be followed by a reception/intermission and then a roundtable discussion on the 369th Regiment in popular culture and history led by Jeffrey T. Sammons (New York University)  and John H. Morrow, Jr.  (University of Georgia) coauthors of Harlem’s Rattlers and the Great War: The Undaunted 369th Regiment and the African American Quest for EqualityMarc Singer, a scholar of contemporary literature at Howard University will address non-historical literary treatments.   Ed Guerrero, of New York University’s Tisch School of the arts will examine film treatments of the Regiment, and Anne Monahan of the Phillips Collection and George Washington University will discuss the war art of Horace Pippin. Musician Randy Weston will also be present to discuss the influence of James Reese Europe.

This roundtable discussion is free and open to the public.

Space is limited.

Please RSVP at 212-998-IAAA (4222).


The 15th New York National Guard, organized in June 1916, was the first black National Guard unit recognized by New York State.   Its history is one of unrelenting struggle in the face of overwhelming resistance to its existence and role as combat soldiers.  The 369th Infantry Regiment was among the first American soldiers during World War I to engage in combat and saw 191 days on the front, never losing a man to capture or a foot of ground that had been taken.

These men adopted the indigenous rattlesnake as its symbol—one not to be treaded upon or provoked—and were known as “Harlem’s Rattlers.” At war’s end, the Regiment received the Croix de Guerre as did 171 members.

World War I was an opportunity for these African American soldiers to perform on a world stage, to overcome the negative stereotypes, and to position themselves for full citizenship in the face of virulent racism from Americans abroad and when they returned home. In all, 375,000 African Americans served in World War I, changing the face of U.S. armed forces forever. What the 369th accomplished during this war laid the foundation for what would happen in and after World War II in advancing black progress in America.