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Curator Wants To Keep Harlem Hellfighters History Exhibit In Harlem

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The curator at a historic society in Upper Manhattan is in search of a new place to store and display memorabilia documenting the story of the Harlem Hellfighters.

As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, retired U.S. Army Gen. Nathaniel James has his memories sorted, stacked, and boxed waiting for a new home.

The artifacts and photos honor the 369th Infantry Regiment – known popularly the Harlem Hellfighters. The storied unit first earned glory in World War I, even though the segregated U.S. military tried to keep the unit away from the front lines.

“They fought under the French Army,” James explained.

The Hellfighters later became a coastal artillery unit, and then a logistics supply brigade. Their home was at the New York National Guard Armory at Fifth Avenue and 142nd Street.

And while the Army is now fully integrated, the history of the unit is precious to many. James said he needs to find a new home for his collection.

“I’ve been here since 1953,” James said. But after September, he will be “out on the street.”

The historic armory is set to undergo a massive renovation, and the military said it will no longer have a place for the private historic society.

A spokesman for the New York National Guard told CBS 2 it is just a matter of changing policy.

“This is about preventing taxpayers of New York from paying for the storage of records, artifacts or materials not belonging to the state, and not relevant to the history and lineage of the 369th Sustainment Brigade (as it is now called),” New York National Guard Col. Richard Goldenburg said.

Volunteers who have bene helping James pack up the items feel the unit’s history is one of context – as important to Harlem as it is to the military. The space being offered to the society is far away on Staten Island.

“It’s not going to cut it. There is the original home,” said volunteer Deborah Elliott-Bloodman. “Everything’s got to stay in the community.”

“We’re losing the culture, I say, from the community,” said volunteer Barney Pinkney.

The 369th Historic Society said it needs 30,000 square feet of space, and it needs to be in Harlem.

Once the renovation of the Harlem Armory begins, it will take three full years. Most of the soldiers have been reassigned temporarily to Camp Smith in Peekskill.

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