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Private David Green was among region's WWI fatalities

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David Green's unit became the nucleus of the 369th Infantry, the famed “Harlem Hellfighters.” One of only eight all-black National Guard units in the country, they were some of the first American troops to arrive in France.

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By Leonard Lanier
For Museum of the Albemarle

Sunday, November 5, 2017

They came from across the Albemarle. From Elizabeth City. From Seaboard. From Gum Neck. They came from all walks of life: farmers, lawyers, college students. None of them knew their destiny. They only knew that America was now at war, and that the nation required them to fight. These 107 men answered that call, and paid the ultimate price.

The military death registers from World War I contain the names of 2,375 North Carolinians killed in “the war to end war.” Of that number, 108 came from the 13 counties in the northeastern part of state. Yet, the death figures do not tell the whole story.

Behind each of those 107 names is a story. A young man off to college. An old man ready to retire. An African-American seeking better opportunities up north. One newspaper article cannot capture all of their stories, but let one man’s life serve as a representative example of the lives lost in the Great War.

David Green lived during an ominous period for African-Americans in the Albemarle. Just a year after his birth, the infamous Red Shirt campaign brought white supremacists to power across the state. In 1900, the state legislature politically disenfranchised blacks. African-Americans entered the 20th century under a dark cloud of economic, social, and political oppression.

Green came of age during this time. Growing up in a segregated Elizabeth City, he experienced the indignities of Jim Crow up close. Like many African-Americans of his age, Green left the region at the first opportunity. By 1917, he worked as a manual laborer in the brickyards of Haverstraw, New York.

Yet, David Green remained connected to the Albemarle. When he enlisted in the New York National Guard in July 1917, Green gave Elizabeth City as his home, and a friend on Walker Avenue as his next of kin.

His unit became the nucleus of the 369th Infantry, the famed “Harlem Hellfighters.” One of only eight all-black National Guard units in the country, they were some of the first American troops to arrive in France.

They came at a key moment in the war. The German Spring Offensive of 1918 threatened to break through Allied defenses and seize Paris. The French, in particular, were desperate for reinforcements. Fighting under French command, David Green and the rest of the 369th Infantry played a key role in stopping and reversing the German onslaught.

Despite their proven fighting ability, the American army refused to let all-black combat regiments like the Hellfighters serve as part of the American Expeditionary Force. The French had no such qualms, and the regiment continued to fight under their command. Through the summer and into the fall of 1918, they served near Verdun, scene of some of the worst fighting of the war.

On Sept. 26, 1918, while participating in one of the innumerable Allied offensives along the Western Front, Green died in action. His body was not recovered. The first Pasquotank native to die in the Great War, his name is not on the county war memorial.

Leonard Lanier is assistant curator for Museum of the Albemarle

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