The Proctor-Hopson Circle is a traffic island in South Jamaica, Queens that was named in honor of John Proctor and Arthur Hopson. Proctor and Hopson were members of the 369th Infantry of the National Guard, also known as the Harlem Rattlers. Proctor and Hopson were residents of Jamaica and were the first men in the regiment from Queens to die in World War I. The local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars named their facility in memory of the veterans to become the Proctor-Hopson Post 1896. The Proctor-Hopson VFW Post held a dedication ceremony with a parade of 1,500 attendees on October 23, 1932 to rename the traffic island in honor of Proctor and Hopson.
At this point in history, the United States Army drafted black and white to segregated units.1 The 369th Infantry of the National Guard was an all-black combat unit under the command of white officers that grew out of the 15th New York National Guard Regiment. The men themselves, however, referred to the unit as the Harlem Rattlers as they believed the rattlesnake to represent power.2 The regiment was one of the first American units sent to France in response to their pleas for troops, and they initially were only used as laborers to construct a supply base.3 However, the 369th was eventually assigned to 16th division of the French army to be trained and would see 191 days in combat, which is longer than any other American unit in World War I. Their efforts contributed to pushing back a German offensive and retaliate with a counteroffensive, and without this American addition to the Allied troops, Germany offensive could have been successful and they may have won the war.1
The 369th Infantry was renowned for their bravery and resilience when fighting with the French at the Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. They were known to refuse surrendering and fight regardless of the availability of supplies and circumstances. They were even the first of the Allies to reach the Rhine.1 This attitude and these achievements would earn the unit the Croix de Guerre which is considered to be France’s highest honor.3
However, African American soldiers faced discrimination that did not ease with their gallant war efforts. They were not allowed to participate in New York National Guard farewell parade called the Rainbow Division on the account that “black is not a color in the Rainbow.”1 American authorities even requested that the French preserve segregation and cited faulty studies about black inferiority. Participation in the war did not have much effect regarding equality for African Americans. Despite the persistence of racist attitudes towards the soldiers, the commander of the 369th, Colonel William Hayward, ensured that his men received a victory parade upon returning to the United States in February 1919.1 Given the additional struggles and lack of recognition black soldiers faced, memorials such as the Proctor-Hopson Circle are especially important to remember what must not forgotten.