US Coins

CFA, CCAC recommend Harlem Hellfighters medal designs

Both the Commission of Fine Arts and the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee recommended to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen the same proposed obverse and reverse designs for the Harlem Hellfighters congressional gold medal.

Images courtesy of the United States Mint.

Proposed obverse and reverse designs for the congressional gold medal honoring the African-American Harlem Hellfighters of World War I have been considered and recommended by the two congressionally authorized panels tasked with considering the renderings.

The Commission of Fine Arts made their recommendations Jan. 19, followed on Jan. 24 by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

Both panels considered six obverse and 18 reverse designs.

Authorized under provisions of Public Law 117-38, the Harlem Hellfighters congressional gold medal recognizes the soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment, originally organized in 1916 as the 15th New York National Guard.

The segregated unit’s members nicknamed themselves “The Rattlers” and adopted a rattlesnake as the regimental insignia.

The Harlem Hellfighters were known not only for their bravery, but also for their morale-boosting marching band. Under the direction of James Reese Europe, the band introduced jazz music to European audiences.

When the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, the Harlem Hellfighters had served more days in the combat zone than any other American regiment. They never lost a foot of ground, never had a member captured by the enemy, and on Nov. 26 were the first Allied troops to reach the Rhine River as part of the French Army of Occupation.

The 369th Infantry Regiment was awarded a French Croix de Guerre unit citation and 171 members of the Harlem Hellfighters were awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery.

CFA recommendations

CFA members concurred with the choices of the liaisons for the recipients of the program’s surcharges.

The obverse design preference illustrates, according to the U.S. Mint narrative, “three uniformed WWI American infantryman from the 369th Regiment.” The inscriptions are HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS, RATTLERS, 15TH NEW YORK NATIONAL GUARD, and U.S. ARMY 369TH INFANTRY REGIMENT. The medal is to be presented to the Smithsonian Institution for public display in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere associated with the Harlem Hellfighters.

The recommended reverse “represents a commemorative crest assembled from elements significant to the 369th Infantry Regiment: a coiled rattlesnake insignia, the French and American flags, the Croix de Guerre, a French Berthier rifle, and a tenor saxophone.”

The reverse design was selected, according to CFA members, because of the additional emphasis on music.

CFA members suggested “that a ribbon be added to the Croix de Guerre to show that it was worn, and potentially removing the ‘Let’s Go Rattlers’ inscription. And it is understood that the flags would also need to be flipped, as Flag Code requires the United States flag to be on the left. This is an element the Mint noted upon presentation of the candidate designs.”

CCAC selections

The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee meeting Jan. 24 recommended the same proposed obverse and reverse medal designs that the Commission of Fine Arts recommended five days earlier.

For the reverse, the CCAC agreed to a motion to remove the infantry battalion name; remove the LET’S GO RATTLERS inscription; flip the flags to comply with the Flag Code; portray a historically accurate United States flag; and add a ribbon to the Croix de Guerre.

The liaisons consulted in the design development process are Richard Harris and Krewasky Salter.

Harris is the John J. McMullen Professor of Humanities at Webb Institute in Glen Cove, New York, and a member of the board of trustees and chair of the exhibits committee of the North Shore Historical Museum in Glen Cove. He mounted an exhibit on the Harlem Hellfighters at the museum in September 2018 that was the impetus for the legislation for the congressional gold medal honoring the Harlem Hellfighters.

Salter is a retired U.S. Army colonel, military history historian, and an African American history historian. He currently serves as president of the Pritzker Military Museum and Library.

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