James Hardy Sims

  Photo: Péralte Paul

Photo: Péralte Paul

James Hardy Sims landed with the 320th on Utah Beach. During the war he had brushes with “nasty” southern whites who weren’t happy to have black soldiers stationed among them. Today, when he wears his World War II cap, white people often stop him, shake his hand, and thank him for his service.

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Fred Hart

  Photo: Courtesy of the Hart family

Photo: Courtesy of the Hart family

McDUFFIE COUNTY, GEORGIA

First Sgt. Fred Hart wrote a series of letters to the War Department detailing racial strife at Camp Tyson, Tennesee. Hart’s letters, on file at the National Archives, offer an important window into abuses and violence at the base in 1943. Hart was angry after a demotion to private, which could have happened if a white non-commissioned officer was assigned to his unit. Black soldiers were not allowed to outrank whites. After the shooting death off base of a black private from the 320th, racial tensions were at an all-time high. Hart wrote: "There is a tense feeling there will be a race riot here. ... They feel they would rather die here then (sic) on a field of battle."

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Samuel J. Harris

 Samuel Harris is pictured at home in 2009 in Washington, D.C.   Photo: Linda Hervieux

Samuel Harris is pictured at home in 2009 in Washington, D.C. 
Photo: Linda Hervieux

Montevallo, Alabama

The son of a coal miner, Samuel Harris was drafted into the Army in 1942 and became a communications officer in the 320th. He was an unwilling draftee and bristled under the strictures of Army life and the daily humiliations of racism and segregation. Seven decades after the war, he raged at the treatment accorded to young black men enlisted in the fight for freedom and democracy abroad. "What they did to me cannot be corrected," he said. After the war, Harris used the G.I. Bill to attend Howard University. He went on to study law, which he "always found fascinating." He was the first black attorney hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He bought a comfortable house on a leafy block in northwest Washington, married and had three daughters.

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