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Maj. Gen. Nathaniel James

Military Officer Nathaniel James is the former commanding General of the New York Army National Guard. Born on July 28, 1935, in the Branchville, South Carolina, his family migrated north to New York City during his childhood. James received early schooling in the New York City Public School system, and attended Theodore Roosevelt High School before graduating from Bronx Vocational High School. James then enrolled at the State University of New York, earning his A.A. degree in business and his B.A. degree in political science. After completing the ROTC training in college and subsequent two years of enlisted service, James was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1959, through the Army Artillery and Missile School.

During his 33 year career, James held a variety of positions and continued to develop his institutional knowledge of Army command, operations and strategy. James’ military education includes the Army Artillery and Missile School; Army Transportation School; Army Command and General Staff College; Army War College; and the National Interagency Counter Drugs Institute. In 1975, James became the commander for the 369th Transportation Battalion, 42nd Division Artillery and 42nd Division Support Command. Between 1988 and 1992, he served as the assistant adjutant general, Headquarters State Area Command, New York Army National Guard. Promoted to Major General on December 29, 1992, James became the first African American to obtain that rank in the history of the New York Army National Guard.

In addition to previously commanding the 369th Transportation Battalion James is the founder and president of both the 369th Veteran’s Association, Inc. and the 369th Historical Society, Inc. The 369th Regiment was originally called the 15th New York Infantry and they were the first African American regiment to engage in combat during World War II. After the war, 171 soldiers in that regiment were awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government, and German soldiers gave them the name, “Harlem Hell Fighters,” for the courage and valor they displayed in battle. James maintains hundreds of photographs and dozens of artifacts, papers, and other items to honor the legacy of the 369th Regiment.

James’ military decorations and awards include, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Medal, and the New York Humanitarian Service Medal.

Nathaniel James was interviewed by the The HistoryMakers on August 1, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.200

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/31/2012

Last Name

James

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Fordham University

State University of New York at Albany

Bronx Regional High School

Army Command and General Staff College

U.S. Army War College

U.S. Army Transportation School

U.S. Army Field Artillery School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Nathaniel

Birth City, State, Country

Branchville

HM ID

JAM05

Favorite Season

July

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/28/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Short Description

Major general Maj. Gen. Nathaniel James (1935 - ) the first African American obtain that rank of Major General in the New York Army National Guard, is the founder and president of both the 369th Historical Society and the 369th Veterans Association.

Employment

New York Army National Guard

369th Veterans' Association

New York City Transit Authority

New York Bell Telephone Company

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Nathaniel James' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Nathaniel James lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Nathaniel James describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Nathaniel James describes the hard life of working on the railroad

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Nathaniel James tells the story of his father's arrival in New York

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Nathaniel James describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Nathaniel James describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Nathaniel James discusses his father's aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Nathaniel James tells how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Nathaniel James describes his parents' personalities and talks about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Nathaniel James describes his earliest childhood memories pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Nathaniel James describes his earliest childhood memories pt.2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Nathaniel James recalls the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Nathaniel James describes his elementary school experience in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Nathaniel James describes his childhood in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Nathaniel James talks about his favorite subject and teachers in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Nathaniel James describes his elementary school's student health inspection

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Nathaniel James discusses his family's move from Brooklyn to the Bronx and an incident that happened to him in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Nathaniel James describes his experience attending a predominantly white school and compares it to his previous school

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Nathaniel James describes his childhood hobbies and his interest in engineering

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Nathaniel James recalls his first job and his high school experiences

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Nathaniel James talks about his childhood and youth

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Nathaniel James describes his enlistment in the New York Army National Guard's 369th Infantry Regiment pt.1

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Nathaniel James describes his enlistment in the New York Army National Guard's 369th Infantry Regiment pt.2

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Nathaniel James talks about race relations in the U. S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Nathaniel James describes his role as a Graves Registration Specialist in the U.S. Army

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Nathaniel James discusses his military and civilian work

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Nathaniel James talks about meeting his wife and continuing his education

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Nathaniel James discusses his computer science coursework at Fordham University in the Bronx

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Nathaniel James talks about his interest in becoming a General

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Nathaniel James describes the formation and advocacy efforts of the Black Officers Association pt.1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Nathaniel James describes his rise to the rank of Major General

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Nathaniel James describes becoming commander of the 369th Infantry Regiment

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Nathaniel James talks about becoming the first African American commander of the 42nd Division Artillery

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Nathaniel James details his various promotions

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Nathaniel James describes the formation and advocacy efforts of the Black Officers Association pt.2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Nathaniel James describes his duties as a Two-Star General

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Nathaniel James talks about having to fire an ineffective Battalion Commander pt.1

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Nathaniel James talks about having to fire an ineffective Battalion Commander pt.2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Nathaniel James discusses people's reactions to him being an African American Two-Star General in the New York Army National Guard

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Nathaniel James talks about his career as a Two-Star General in the New York Army National Guard

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Nathaniel James talks about an officer in the 369th Infantry Regiment who refused to fight in the Iraqi War

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Nathaniel James discusses the creation of the 369th Infantry Regiment Historical Society pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Nathaniel James discusses the creation of the 369th Infantry Regiment Historical Society pt.2

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Nathaniel James talks about the erection of the monument in France honoring the 369th Infantry Regiment's efforts during World War I

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Nathaniel James talks about the creation of a duplicate monument in honor of the 369th Infantry Regiment in New York City pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Nathaniel James talks about the creation of a duplicate monument in honor of the 369th Infantry Regiment in New York City pt.2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Nathaniel James describes the move of the second 369th Infantry Regiment monument from Germany to the United States pt.1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Nathaniel James discusses development and programs at the 369th Infantry Regiment Historical Society, as well as the infantry's monument dedication

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Nathaniel James reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Nathaniel James reminisces about his late friend, William Miles and the 369th Regiment's portrayal in movies

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Nathaniel James describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Nathaniel James talks about his family and how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

3$5

DATitle
Nathaniel James describes his childhood in New York City
Nathaniel James discusses the creation of the 369th Infantry Regiment Historical Society pt.2
Transcript
Okay. Now, what was your--were your schools--. Now, you're in Harlem, right, in a--?$$I was in Harlem.$$This is Harlem. So most of your classmates were black, I guess.$$Well, then it was--it wasn't all black then. It's just, like, the middle the Harlem where, I guess was black, but naturally, as a kid, I didn't go from level to level. I could only be right there in the street. We lived on Edgecombe Avenue. And then from Edgecombe Avenue we moved to Brooklyn to Gates Avenue. And I can remember Gates Avenue and it was a--Gates and Tompkins. That's when the war was going on, and that's where I saw like they delivered fish. Well, they didn't have a lot of ice trucks then, so what they did is, they delivered fish fresh. So the fish truck would come like a tanker truck, and they would scoop down with a big net, and take the fish out, and take them into the fish market. So you know you're getting fresh fish, they swimming right there in the tank. I guess that was amazing to me to watch them dip down and get all these fish out and put them in a basket and take them into the fish market. And I could sit in the window and watch the trucks come and deliver the bread and whatnot. And occasionally, my oldest sisters and brothers would take us downstairs to play in front of the stoop. And they had a movie, the Tompkins was on the corner. And I could down that far and could look at, you know, they put the pictures of what's playing on the inside. They'd put little scenes on the still pictures outside, and that's as far as I got. If I got ice cream, I think, ice cream, they told me, was three cents. So, I could get a cone of ice cream, which I very rarely got for three cents.$$It's unbelievable--$$Yeah.$$--now to think that you could get that for three cents.$$I guess a dollar now is like three cents then (laughs).$Now, what year was this when you formed it?$$This is in 1960, I guess.$$Okay.$$Let's revise that. 1959; about 1960.$$Okay.$$'Cause he says--we worked on that for--'til 1961, I can remember that, and we had our first viewers to come through. We had a little tour to come through and look at all the memorabilia. And we went through what the thing was about, and who these officers were, and all the different things that was in there. And it sort of caught on. People wanted to know more about it. So we're still confined to this little room. So, but they won't give us anymore space in the Amory. So we'll have to do the best that we can. So, we worked on fixing the room up, and taking all the phernalia (sic) and stuff out and putting the into categories, and try to organize it to something that we'll know where it's at when we need it. So, little by little, Bill Miles now decides that he's got enough of this stuff that he can make a film out of it. So he comes to me and he asks me to write a letter on behalf of the battalion, that he could go to the National Archives and get the footage of the 369th [Infantry Regiment]. Now, if you saw the "Men of Bronze," that footage in there is the footage that he got from the National Archives. So we wrote--now, normally if you go to the National Archives, you have to pay for the footage. But, if you go there as one of the historical units, you get it free, 'cause it's you. So, anyway, he was allowed to get all of this footage free. So, he was able to do that, and he got the film, and then he decided to do interviews and whatnot. And he did a lot of interviews, you know, like the little redheaded gentleman that was here, I met him. Now, he's in the film, and he was an actual 369er. Actually, I met a number of real 369er's that was in the World War I, but since them they have all passed away, so, you can't talk to any of them at this point. But that was the beginning. And then, as time went on, we wanted to expand. But we never got permission to expand it. So little by little, as I rose in rank, eventually, I got to be the Commander. When I got to be the Commander, then I had control over everything. So, I said, "Well, we can expand this out." And I told him to put things out I the lounges. So what we do is expand it into the lounge, and we collect this stuff up and put it back in the library. So it was an on and on, put up displays and take them down. So, as time went on, I spoke to this guy, William DeFossett. He was the president of the Veterans' Association there. He was a treasury officer. And knowing him and what he could do opened a lot of doors just by him being the treasurer officer. So, we used to help him, have him help us do a lot of things. So he says to me one day, "You know, you got committee on the end of this thing, 369th Historical Committee. That sounds awful small." He said, "Why don't you make it the 369th Historical Society, and then it's a bigger thing." I said, "That makes sense." So I changed it to 369th Historical Society. And then we decided to get a charter. So, we worked that, getting a charter. We got the charter, and then from the charter we had to go and get the 501(c)(3) status. We worked at getting the 501(c)(3) status. We got that. And that's the beginning of the 369th Historical Society. And--$$Now, what--yeah. I'm sorry. What year is this?$$And then, as time went on, I got to be the Army Commander. And then after I was the Army Commander, I came back here. They needed the space in the second floor library for a classroom. So I convinced them to give all the space on the walls in this lower area and upstairs to the exclusive use of the Society that no Commander can say what would go up there. That the Society would say what goes up and what takes down (sic). And I went through the Adjutant Generals' office and they gave approval. And so, we expanded everything outside to the different corridors. And that's the way it is today. And that's how the Society is now. The Society itself collects anybody that is interested in preserving history. And so, we have a lot of people that are not military. Anybody that wants to join can join for a fee of $25 as a yearly fee. If they want to be a life member, it's $300. So we got a lot of people to join in for life members, and a lot of people that do annual membership. So, the annual membership is the blood that keeps money coming in that you can do your administrative stuff. But it's nothing big. We try to get a couple of grants here and there. We've managed to get a few grants from the government through our representatives and whatnot. But it--as the budget dries up, that dries up also. So, we've been able to keep those things going. Then when we got to the point that we wanted to expand into the streets, we decided that we should be a monument up in France where the 369th fought, because we had the opportunity to go there, and there weren't no monuments to the 369th [Infantry Regiment], even in the town of Sechault.$$How do you spell that?$$Sechault? S-H-E-A-C-H-T-L (sic), I think it is, A-L-T, chalt.$$Okay. Okay.$$