|Colonel Charity Adams-Earley
Not only was she the first
black woman commissioned as an officer in the Women's Army Corps, Charity
Adams also attained the highest rank possible in the Corps below the directorship
-- Only one full colonel was permitted in the WAC, and that rank was held
only by the Director. She was also the commanding officer of the
first battalion of black service women to serve overseas during WWII.
This unit, the
6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion(or "Six Triple Eight"), did
an extraordinary job of redirecting mail in the European Theater of Operations.
Troops were reassigned quickly, battle casualties were relocated often,
and the sheer number of U.S. personnel in the ETO was staggering -- a total
of about seven million, with more than 7,500 of them, for instance, having
the name of Robert Smith. But the Six Triple Eight broke all records
for redirecting mail. They knew the importance of their job, in maintaining
The job in its entirety was
difficult, as Charity Adams Earley describes without self-pity in her book
One Woman's Army (1989, Texas A&M University). Her unit faced
the typical disparagements of those days. The Red Cross wanted to
establish a special hotel for black WACs in London. Charity Adams
refused this "generosity," and her unit stood behind her. She reports
other difficulties: in Birmingham, the black women had a curfew of
11:00 p.m. (instead of the 12:30 a.m. curfew for white soldiers), because
the residents of the area were told that blacks had tails that appeared
at midnight, and these tails were especially apparent below the skirts
of women. Then, too, there were resentments from white males in the
service, and even from black males, as Adams describes it: "Negro
males had been systematically degraded and mistreated in the civilian world,
and the presence of successfully performing Negro women on the scene increased
But Charity Adams was up
to the challenge. She'd been raised in Columbia S.C., by a minister/educator
father and a mother who also taught (and who corrected Charity's letters
home, sending them back marked in red). Charity was at Ohio State
University, working on a master's degree in vocational psychology, when
she entered the army in 1942. "The welfare of the country came first,
even as we rejected our status as second-class citizens..." she writes.
And she rejected anyone who
sought to downgrade her own good work or the good work of her unit.
"As the 6888th maintained its efficiency, we were inspected, visited, greeted,
checked out, congratulated, called upon, supervised, and reviewed by every
officer of any rank in the United Kingdom who could come up with an excuse
to come to Birmingham." This led to a confrontation that Charity
Adams describes in detail. One general was apparently bothered at
seeing some of the unit's women in their bathrobes (even though it was
explained to him that the unit worked in three shifts, so some of the unit
were on sleeping time). "I'll tell you what I am going to do, Major
Adams," said the general. "I'm going to send a white first lieutenant
down here to show you how to run this unit." Charity's response:
"Over my dead body, Sir." Before the day was out, word came that
the general was drawing up court-martial charges against her. In
turn, she considered court-martial charges against him (for stressing racial
disharmony among the troops, an action specifically cautioned against in
a special directive from SHAEF). Within a few days, the general had dropped
his charges, and Charity Adams too dropped her plans. Some months
later, when they came across each other again, he apologized to her.
She had outsmarted him, he said, and he was proud to know her. She
had also been "quite an education" for him, "especially about Negroes."
Charity Adams was indeed
an impressive woman. How many other black women were like her, in
their overwhelming desire to defend their country, and their overriding
wish to do their job with an excellence that their fellow warriors deserved?
There were probably many, their stories unwritten, their pride undisplayed.
How fortunate that we have the book by Charity Adams Earley, setting the
record straight and showing us a very distinguished woman.
American War Heroes - includes a section on 6888 Postal Battalion and
woman at war.
source: Museum of Black WW