On May 27, 1923, almost 100 years ago, a ceremonial cornerstone was laid in Harlem by New York City Mayor John Francis Hylan, who had also broken ground for the new Harlem armory in November 1921. William Hayward, who commanded the 369th in France and was then the U.S. attorney for New York, spoke at the ceremony, as did Rep. Fiorello LaGuardia, who later became mayor of New York City.
The armory was (and is) located on the Harlem river between West 143 and 142 and is the home of the New York Army National Guard’s 369th Sustainment Brigade, was built to house the 369th Infantry Regiment. Initially a drill hall was constructed in 1921-24 and an administrative building was added in the 1930s
The 369th Infantry, known as the Harlem Hellfighters, came to international fame during WW1. Originally the 15th Infantry, New York National Guard, this regiment of Black Soldiers commanded mostly by white officers fought as part of a French division.
Renumbered as the 369th U.S. Infantry, the regiment spent 191 days in combat, never retreated and accumulated 170 French Croix de Guerre awards for heroism.
At the cornerstone laying ceremony, a time capsule was also hidden in the floor. The mystery box’s contents highlighted the pride of Black New Yorkers in their regiment, their culture, and city officials’ recognition of the 369th and the black community, according to Courtney Burns, the director of the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.
In the time capsule were:
- Five issues of the “New York Age,” a weekly African-American newspaper, highlighting the service of the “15th New York,” as it was then known.
- Two typewritten histories of the 369th, one that concludes May 27, 1923, the date the cornerstone of the armory was laid.
- A program for the showing of a movie called “Hell Fighters” at the Lafayette Theater May 15, 1920, during which the regiment’s band played.
- A list of the members of the various New York City boards responsible for funding the construction of the armory, indicating their support for the project.
- A program for a New York City memorial honoring the life of Col. Charles Young, also held May 27, 1923, was included in the time capsule.
- A Dec. 25, 1922, issue of the National Review was also in the box. The magazine described itself as “A journal Devoted to the Progress and Development of the Colored People.”
- There were four promotional books from the armory’s contractors: Post and McCord. Two highlighted projects from 1917 and two from 1920.
- There was also a photograph of Paul Francis Needlhan, the son of Capt. Lawrence V. Needlhan, the superintendent of construction of the project.
- Finally, there was a photograph labeled “Priv. Josiah A. Thomas/died Feb. 19 ’22 “Co. C.” On the back, in the same handwriting, is the inscription, “From Cousin Irma J. Rock.”
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