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

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time humanity has been devastated by disease. History reminds us of our most challenging moments but also how we’ve managed to persevere.

Dr. Jeff Gusky discovered the remnants of an almost forgotten African American combat unit whose members volunteered to serve after white troops were decimated by disease in the Spanish American War.

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Credit Courtesy Jeffrey Gusky
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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.

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. 

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.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter @NormDog1 and Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter @terrazas_lauren.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren