How Valiant Hearts: Coming Home Honors The Harlem Hellfighters

Published: 10 February 2023

By Chastity Vicencio
via the UBISOFT web site

Valiant Hearts: Coming Home image

Valiant Hearts-Coming Home

Valiant Hearts: Coming Home, the sequel to the award-winning Valiant Hearts: The Great War, is available now exclusively for Netflix members on the Netflix mobile app. The game tells the stories of four ordinary people dealing with the overwhelming nature of war, including James, a member of the Harlem Hellfighters, the first mainly African American infantry unit to fight during World War I.

Though the game’s characters are fictional, they are inspired by true events. Ubisoft News spoke with Manager of Inclusive Games and Content Maya Loréal and historian of World War I Dr. John H. Morrow Jr. to find out how they helped to ensure that the stories told in Valiant Hearts: Coming Home are respectful and historically accurate, and to learn more about Black history around WWI.

Valiant Hearts: Coming Home tells the story of James, a Harlem Hellfighter. Why was it important to tell the story from the perspective of a Black man?

Maya Loréal: Videogames are a unique medium allowing players to experience and see the world through perspectives and emotions that differ from theirs. Valiant Hearts is about ordinary people getting caught in the war. The team wanted to show another side of World War I through the Harlem Hellfighters, the first African-American regiment. They enlisted to fight overseas, as did 360,000 other African American men, and fought with bravery and dignity. However, it took a long time for their contribution to the war to be acknowledged. The Valiant Hearts team wanted to shed light on their incredible journey. It mattered to them to pay tribute to these unsung heroes, tell their stories, and make their voices heard in an authentic way.

Who were the Harlem Hellfighters exactly? Why are they so notable?

Dr. John H. Morrow Jr.: The Harlem Hellfighters were the 369th US Infantry Regiment, originally the 15th New York National Guard. They never lost ground to a German attack and lost no prisoners to the Germans, establishing the best record of any regiment in the American Expeditionary Force. They were also famous for the superb Harlem Hellfighters Band, led by the renowned Black composer and bandleader James Reese Europe, which introduced jazz to Europe.

How does James’ story fit in with the entire narrative of Valiant Hearts: Coming Home?

ML: I don’t want to reveal too much, but what I can share is that James is looking for his brother Freddie. Like so many African Americans, he also wants to prove his worth and loyalty to his country in the context of segregation in the US. We follow James in his journey throughout WWI. We have this interesting dynamic of parallel stories: James is on a quest for his brother, while the 369th regiment is on a quest for recognition.

The game opens by saying that when the US joined WWI, 360,000 Black men enlisted “eager to show their patriotism in the hopes of returning home heroes.” Was it really that simple? Or were they drafted just like everyone else?

Dr. John H. Morrow Jr.: Of the 400,000 Black men who served in the army, some 360,000 of them served as engineers building and repairing roads, railroads, and bridges; stevedores loading and unloading ships; or laborers. They were invariably draftees. Some 42,000 Black men served as combat soldiers in regiments numbered 369 (Harlem Hellfighters, originally the 15th New York National Guard), 370 (originally the 8th Illinois National Guard), 371 (a South Carolina draftee regiment), and 372 (a composite National Guard regiment of Black men from smaller Guard units). The Guardsmen were volunteers – they chose to fight, and did. The 369th amassed the best record of any regiment in the entire AEF in WWI, which is why they received a Congressional Gold Medal in 2015.

Read the entire article on the UBISOFT web site.

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