History mystery | S.C. black regiment to be featured on PBS

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As the Great War raged in Europe in 1917, a group of African-American draftees and their white officers — all from South Carolina — mustered into the newly built Camp Jackson in Columbia to train for the trenches.

But before they could be sent to fight in World War I, the institutional racism of the day kicked in. They would not be allowed to serve alongside all-white U.S. units.

The solution? They would fight for France, a U.S. ally.

“Some had never seen a city,” said Anne Clarkson, a former Fort Jackson captain who has studied the little-known regiment and its most famous member, Medal of Honor recipient Freddie Stowers of Sandy Springs, for nearly two decades.

“Some showed up with no shoes, and the next thing they know is they are being shipped to France. Think about that,” she said. “But (in combat) they didn’t lose a single foot of ground.”

“The entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre,” said Clarkson, referring to a French medal for heroism. “And the people of France put up a monument to thank them.”

The story of the 371st Regiment will be told this summer during an episode of PBS’ “History Detectives”. The focus of the show will be whether a flag found by Clarkson, who now lives in Batesburg-Leesville, was carried by the regiment in battle.

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