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Historic Harlem armory holds open house

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 6/12/2013, 6:21 p.m.

"In the building, there are a number of decor rooms. If they tear the building down, it's going to take three to four years. Tenants like myself will have to move out by October 1 of this year. I have spoken to General James and he said by 2014 they expect everybody to be out. They will start demolition of the building and we'll never get back in, that's for sure. Also, they're going to move the military unit.

"The 369th used to be a regiment, now it's a brigade," James continued. "A brigade would hold four or five regiments in it. The 369th, being the most decorated, has elevated itself to brigade status, which it should be. When they move this unit, they're going to put it in different places. They will break up the continuity of this unit--and will they ever get back together? Maybe not. That's the problem, and that will be the demise of the 369th. I don't think the soldiers of World War I volunteered their time and their lives to have this happen. It is part of American history and part of civil rights, because they had the trials and tribulations of getting this unit started from the beginning."

Further discussing the history of the building, James said, "In 1913, the governor authorized this unit to be formed, but it wasn't authorized until 1917 because of the predicament of Black soldiers learning to fight. They didn't want them to go and kill white people. It was a war. On top of that, they wouldn't let them fight with the American forces. They had to fight with the French forces. Never in history and never again would they take an integral part of the United States Army and give it to a foreign power, which was France," he said.

"The French all along felt very humbled with the 369th and its history. In addition, James Reese Europe was the bandleader who introduced jazz to Europe. That's what I want to preserve. I want to preserve the inside of this building as a historical site, and not change anything. The other thing is, why can't they do it in piecemeal instead of gutting the whole building and uprooting everybody?" James questioned.

The building is rich with history, from the customized doorknobs to the embellishments and crests and other decorations throughout that pay homage to the 369th. James wants all of its irreplaceable history preserved for generations as a legacy to the African-American soldiers who served in the 369th.

Come out and see this Harlem history firsthand at the Harlem Armory open house, to be held Monday Feb. 25 through the 28 at the Armory, located at 142nd Street and Fifth Avenue, from noon to 4 p.m.