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Colonel Charity Adams-Earley

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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 morale.

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 their resentment."

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.

Related item:
African American War Heroes - includes a section on 6888 Postal Battalion and woman at war.
 

source: Museum of Black WW II History
http://www.blackww2museum.org/contact.htm
 

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