The Coca-Cola Foundation awards major grant to 369th Experience Project
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
The Coca-Cola Foundation has awarded a grant of $200,000 to go towards the 369th Experience. This program, sponsored by the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission, and led by Executive Producer Stephany Neal, is designed to honor the 369th Infantry Regiment, and their famous musical ensemble, with a slate of public performances and art exhibitions during the centennial period of World War I.
The 369th Experience will bring the music and art of the era into the 21st Century, and tell modern audiences about the experiences of African-Americans during the turn of the 20th Century.
During World War I, the U.S. Army was racially segregated, and the 369th Infantry Regiment was made up of African-American soldiers. Overcoming racial prejudice at many levels, the unit served in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I, and earned the nickname ‘Harlem Hellfighters’. Their soldiers earned 171 Croix de Guerre medals and Legions of Honor awards from the French government, making them one of the highest-decorated units of the American Expeditionary Force.
In 2015, Private Henry Johnson from the unit was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama, for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty.
In addition to their role on the battlefields of France, their 369th Infantry Regimental Band under Lieutenant James Reese Europe, introduced American-style jazz music to Europe, which had worldwide impact that continues to this day. The 369th Experience will mark these stories, to ensure that their challenges, and triumphs, are remembered.
The 369th Experience is an incredibly ambitious project. With the help of The Coca-Cola Foundation, the Centennial Commission looks forward to seeing this wonderful project come to life.