They called Sgt. Henry Johnson “Black Death,” a soldier from the all-black “Harlem Hellfighters” unit who fought off two dozen Germans with a gun and then a knife during World War I.
But when the war ended and the lauds from President Theodore Roosevelt and the French, who awarded him their nation’s highest award for valor, the “Croix de Guerre avec Palme,” faded into the recesses of American history, Johnson couldn’t even get a pension. It was an era of racial segregation and Johnson, who spoke out against racism in the Army in a 1919 speech, died at age 32 after having spent his post service career as a porter for the rail service.
Now, nearly a century after his efforts in battle, the White House announced this week that Johnson will receive the Medal of Honor. Johnson and another WWI veteran, William Shemin, a Jewish sergeant who lied about his age in order to serve, and eventually led a platoon in battle, will be awarded the nation’s highest military honor on June 2.
By Halimah Abdullah | May 15, 2015