African Americans in Chicago
8th Infantry (370th) Regiment Armory and Victory Monument
In the nineteenth century mind, black Illinoisans recognized that a well-organized, perfectly drilled, armed militia unit represented as a step forward in citizenship. Their efforts led to the unit's formation in 1894 as a Chicago-based, all-black militia unit into the "Eighth," a unit that would draw men from all throughout the state. African Americans insisted that all line officers be African American in variance to American military practice. Next, the community's demand for a permanent training facility led to the construction of an armory at 3533 South Giles Avenue in 1915.
As combatants, the Eighth served in the Spanish-American-Cuban War of 1898 with the unit's next action in the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916. As American involvement in the First World War loomed, the Eighth was called to duty in 1917 to prepare for combat in France as the federally-redesignated 370th Infantry Regiment. The unit immediately viewed the fight in Europe as further advancing their claim to full citizenship rights in America. Sailing for France, they encountered the racism directed against blacks in the military, so the 370th was assigned to fight with the French Army instead of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Nonetheless, the men of the 370th distinguished themselves with their courage in bayonet attacks in classic hand-to-hand combat. While reaching France with approximately 2,500 men, they returned with only 1,260. In combat, the 370th distinguished itself in the war until the last day of fighting on November 11, 1918. For their valor, the French bestowed upon seventy-one soldiers of the 370th their highest military honor, the Croix de Guerre. Recognition of the fighting skills by their foes earned the sobriquet in combat of "Black Devils" and "Black Partridges." When the 370th returned to Chicago the next year in 1919, a triumphant parade down Michigan Avenue awaited the men. Several years later, a nearby statue, the Victory Monument, was erected to honor them.
Meanwhile on the home front, support from black Chicagoans had been overwhelming. As a local symbol of courage and treasure key to claims of citizenship rights, the 370th was even featured in movies shown within the Bronzeville community and was the object of enthusiastic public displays of support. After the war, the men frequently entered political ranks and were active in both veterans' and fraternal groups. As such, these men changed the course of life in Chicago by providing leadership and by functioning as models of unselfish public service.