Lessons Learned From A Pre-WWI All-Black Combat Unit During A Pandemic

National Public Radio Interview: http://tiny.cc/hyx9oz

Sometimes photographs are like a mystical bridge across time enabling human beings who lived long ago to speak to us, the living, and inspire us with realistic hope. 

This story is a dignity story about African American heroes who faced down a frightening infectious disease Pandemic during the Spanish American War and won. Their courage and selflessness, when fellow Americans were dying in droves, are a shining example of how we will win against Corona. 

In crisis we see differently … we don’t see race, we see human. African American patriots who lived more than a century ago show us what it means to be an American as we face extreme danger together. Trust in each other is the glue that will get us through.  Dr. Jeff Gusky

From NPR: Dr. Gusky is an ER doctor in Dallas and a National Geographic photographer and explorer. His explorations took him to France, where battles in the first world war were fought above ground while soldiers created underground cities beneath the trenches that held tens of thousands of troops. 

Dr. Gusky’s discovery revived the experience of the Black Devils and is now shared in the exhibit, “We Return Fighting: The African American Experience in World War I” at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.CREDIT COURTESY JEFFREY GUSKY

It was in these underground cities that Gusky discovered the only surviving traces of the WWI African American combat unit beneath a farm field in France. 

The Black Devils out of Illinois were formally known as the 370th U.S. Infantry. The all-Black combat unit volunteered to serve two decades earlier, in the Spanish American War after white troops died from disease.

The Black Devils were hailed as heroes for their efforts in the Spanish American War and WWI but their story faded as the century passed.

Dr. Gusky says lessons learned from this heroic unit can be applied to how we approach the current pandemic.

Dr. Gusky’s discovery revived the experience of the Black Devils and is now shared in the exhibit “We Return Fighting: The African American Experience in World War I” at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

See some of Dr. Gusky’s photography here.

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