15th N.Y. InfantryThe 15th N.Y. Infantry, a volunteer National Guard unit of African American soldiers, arrived here Oct. 10, 1917, to train at Camp Wadsworth. Race riots that summer in East St. Louis and Houston raised the fears of Spartanburg's whites about the potential for racial violence if Northern black soldiers trained here. Though the 15th N.Y. was ordered not to respond to any insults or physical abuse by local whites, tensions rose for the next two weeks.
"Harlem Hell Fighters"The War Dept., fearing that minor incidents would soon escalate, ordered the unit back to N.Y. on Oct. 24 and on to France. As the 369th U.S. Infantry, it joined the 4th French Army and its band won acclaim all over France for its concerts. It was the first American unit in combat, and was soon nicknamed "the Harlem Hell Fighters." It was at the front for 191 days, the longest of any American unit of World War I.