The bravery of the only all-African-American unit in WWI, the ‘Black Devils’

From the Local 5 Digital Desk

 (WFRV) — During World War I, they earned a reputation of ferocity, and bravery. So much so that they were known as the “Black Devils” by dispirited Germans.

Dr. Jeff Gusky, a National Geographic photographer, and explorer, recently unearthed the only trace of the Black Devils, which was the only all-African-American unit in WWI. Their story has become part of an exhibit, “We Return Fighting: The African-American exhibit in World War I.  

The Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture shines light on the bravery of this Company. After the war, they continued to fight at home, “for a democracy they never knew.”

The exhibit is called, “We Return Fighting: The African-American experience in World War I” probing war-time conditions at home and abroad.

During World War I, over 380,000 African-American soldiers served in the armed forces. The Military restricted most black soldiers to labor battalions where they unloaded ships, dug trenches, and built roads.

The 370th Infantry arrived to fight in France on April 22, 1918. By June of the same year, they took position on the front-lines. The 370th, commanded entirely by black officers, faced hard fighting, shelling, and poison gas attacks.

Upon returning to Illinois, a grand celebration took place with a parade, welcoming the brave men home.

African-American state representative from Chicago, Adelbert Roberts said, in part, “Give these boys a chance. They kept Old Glory afloat in the breeze.” Roberts later became the first black state senator in Illinois, and made “an eloquent appeal to white people to give the colored race an opportunity for high positions in labor.”

At the time, African-Americans had limited employment opportunities which hindered their ability to integrate into the middle-class life.

A closer look into how World War I shaped the experience for African-Americans overseas and back home.

How can this exhibit help heal race relations? Dr. Gusky says the story of race in America is both better and worse than we realize. The Black Devils reconnects us to the “moral moment” of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s vision for freedom in America.

While the museum is closed for the time-being, the exhibit will run through June, 2020. Visit their website for all of the latest updates.

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