National Geographic Explorer Gets Smithsonian Exhibit for Black Devils Discovery

by February 17, 2020

Sailors reading, writing, and relaxing at the Red Cross Rest Room in New Orleans.
National Archives (165-WW-127A-016)

As we enter the second half of Black History Month, a new angle for you: You might know African-American soldiers fought and died for America long before the country was even integrated. But did you know there was only one all-African-American unit in the entire U.S. military back in World War I? One man has done more than probably anyone else in America to honor the “Black Devils.”

Jeff Gusky is a National Geographic explorer and photographer whose work is now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. Gusky recently unearthed the only trace of the Black Devils, and even more remarkable than the discovery itself is all the intrigue surrounding it:

  • Nationally he’s known for his Smithsonian work, which aims to heal racial tensions, but he’s also a different kind of healer in his day job: an ER doctor.
  • Gusky’s discovery celebrates African-American history but is not afraid to touch controversial aspects, such as allegations that Booker T. Washington’s intentions weren’t all good.
  • Gusky’s discovery isn’t just a fascinating part of history. The message of the Black Devils is more relevant today than ever, considering all the racial tensions that still exist. They were a unit of soldiers who saw themselves as visionaries, not victims, and they believed in America long before America believed in them.

The Smithsonian’s chief curator, Rex Ellis, calls Gusky’s discovery “‘I have a dream’ before ‘I have a dream.’”

Would you like to speak with Dr. Gusky? I also have great visuals I can share of the exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.


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