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Adams Earley, Charity 1918–2002

Charity Adams Earley 19182002

Former Womens Army Corp lieutenant-colonel

Racial Intimidation

Beginning of World War II

The Persuasive Mary McLeod Bethune

Joined WAAC

Opportunities for Black Women

DiscriminationAgain

The 6888th Central Postal Battalion

Selected Writings

Sources

The year 1995 brought many celebrations marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Some of these celebrations also acknowledged the huge contribution of dedicated black service people, who worked in tandem with their white colleagues to help achieve peace. The Salute to African-Americans in World War II was held on February 17, 1995, at Washington, D.C.s Constitution Hall, and Womens Army Corps veteran Lieutenant-Colonel Charity Adams Earley was invited to introduce the guest of honor, President Bill Clinton.

Adams Earley (then Charity Adams), an implacable opponent of segregation as well as a gifted military administrator, tightly focused on duty in both these roles. She became the first black woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Womens Army Corps (WAC). Adams Earley retired after the war as the highest ranking black officer in the service.

Adams Earley grew up in a household with a strong belief in education as an indispensable ingredient of success. Her father, a Methodist minister, had been a teenager with enough ambition to leave his farming family to follow his own dream, and enough character to work his way through Johnson H. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Once ordained, Reverend Adams continued to broaden his cultural horizons, safeguarding his hard-won fluency in Greek and Hebrew by reading foreign newspapers. His wifes devotion to her profession as a schoolteacher was just as deep. Though she chose to stay home and raise her four children, her decision in no way prevented her from bringing out a red pencil years after they had all left home, and correcting any errors she found in their letters.

Racial Intimidation

The cultivated and rather scholarly lifestyle of the Adams family did not shield them from the segregation in their South Carolina hometown, Columbia. All around them were traces of supposed white superiority; colored seating signs on buses, whites only warnings on drinking fountains, and even lynchingsall evidence of an increasingly savage bigotry since the end of the Civil War. As devoted parents, they taught their family how to deal with this blatant racism by handling painful incidents calmly and without hysteriaa strategy that paid handsome dividends on at least one nasty evening, as their daughter Charity later recalled.

The occasion was a 1942 visit from robed Ku Klux Klan members, who arrived en masse and sat in their cars all night to show their disapproval of Reverend Adams role as chapter president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). We sat in darkness following our [fathers] instructions, which were to make sure that we did nothing that could be considered provocation, she noted in her autobiography, One Womans Army. It had been just dusk when we came home, and we could see the men clearly.About dawn, the cars left.

Despite such obvious attempts at intimidation, Charity Adams was a good student, graduating as valedictorian

At a Glance

B orn in Columbus, SC; died January 13, 2002, in Dayton, OH; married Stanley A. Earley, M.D., 1949; two children. Education: Wilberforce University, B.A., 1938; Ohio State University, M.A., 1946.

Career: U.S. Womens Auxiliary Army Corps, Fort Des Moines, 1942, Third Training Regiment (Officers Training), 1942.

Member: Sinclair Community College, board of trustees, vice-chairperson; Montgomery County Human Service Levy Council, chairperson; United Way, board of directors member; American Red Cross, Dayton, OH, chairperson; Dayton Power and Light, board member, 1979-91.

Awards: Top Ten Women of the Miami Valley Dayton Daily News, 1965; Black Women Against the Odds, Smithsonian Institution; Ohio Womens Hall of Fame, 1979; honorary doctorates: Wilberforce University and University of Dayton, both 1991; Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame Inductee, 1993; National Postal Museum honoree, Smithsonian Institution, 1996.

of her high school class. She chose to attend Wilberforce University, an Ohio college affiliated with the African Methodist Church. Following her fathers example she worked her way through school, earning her bachelors degree in 1938. Then she returned to Columbia, where she taught mathematics at the local high school while studying part-time for a masters degree in psychology. Three and a half years slid by in tranquil monotony.

Beginning of World War II

For Charity Adams, as for millions of other Americans, the events of 1941 changed their lives. In Europe World War II was well under way, with Hitler so sure of success that he boldly invaded Russia in June; in December, Japan announced both its alliance to Germany and its intention of grabbing Eastern Asia by smashing the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Roosevelts immediate declaration of war paradoxically brought black men a range of employment possibilities far greater than those they had previously found in post-Depression America. Those hoping for job opportunities found generous choices in the military, for new War Department policy had recently been revised to bring the numbers of black volunteers into line with the proportion of African Americans in the general population. Most of these men were destined for combat. Alongside them came an escalating tide of former military drivers, cooks, and office managers, whose switch to the fighting forces left long lists of bureaucratic vacancies in the departments they had once staffed.

Substitutes being necessary to ensure smooth behind-the-scenes functioning, the War Department planned an active campaign to attract women. A first step in October of 1941 was the creation of a group called the Advisory Council to the Womens Interests Section (ACWIS). Administered by the War Departments Bureau of Public Relations, ACWIS brought together 33 (later 36) members of the countrys most influential social service organizations. Black women were represented by the charismatic Mary McLeod Bethune.

The Persuasive Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune was a handsome woman of considerable administrative ability. She came to ACWIS as president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a position she filled while functioning both as director of the National Youth Administrations Negro division, and as a trusted assistant to the secretary for war. As if all this was not enough to make her a woman of significant clout, Bethune also happened to be a close friend of the First Lady.

This kaleidoscopic array of roles kept Bethune constantly in the public eye and made her an awe-inspiring role model to the entire black community. In 1942 when she began to make speeches urging young black women to join a new organization called the Womens Army Auxiliary Corps, they paid attention to her words. When she showed them that para-military service could offer them career choices in fields other than nursing, teaching, or domestic service, they were eager to sample the panoply of skills that the military so desperately needed.

While this aspect of Mary McLeod Bethunes campaigning was specifically aimed at the less-qualified, she and the WAAC director, Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, thought just as carefully about ways in which they might attract highly educated women to serve as WAAC officers. Just one move found them asking several colleges for the names of possible candidates. In early 1942 they received a reply from Wilberforce University. On their list was Charity Edna Adams.

Joined WAAC

In June of 1942, Adams mailed the application that had arrived with her personal invitation to join the WAAC. Within a month she was on her way to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, to start her military training. Like millions of other Americans, she had made a decision that would transform her life. However, as she soon discovered, there were some things that never changed, and segregation was one of them.

This fact was brought home to Adams right after her first-ever military meal, by order of a very young white male second-lieutenant: Will all the colored girls move over on this side. Then, he proceeded to tell his stunned audience that separate housing had been provided for black and white recruits. This came as a shock to Adams and the other 38 black women entering the service with her, but they were relieved to learn that this segregation did not extend to their training. Whatever her heritage, each new WAAC learned precision in marching, map reading, obedience, and general all-round competency in the basics of military life.

On August 30, 1942, Charity Adams graduated from her basic training. Two weeks later she became the first black woman to receive a commission in the WAAC, when she was made company commander of the female Basic Training Company located on a new part of the post. Her position was pivotal between her white commanding officers and the newcomers to the WAACS, and her duty was to introduce people to military discipline, culture and life, and provide basic training, or, as she said to make soldiers out of civilians, a mission she carried out with all the efficiency of the experienced schoolteacher she had once been.

Opportunities for Black Women

Certain recollections point to the fact that she also tried to maintain a sense of humor. Nowhere did this come out more strongly than in the case of the sleep-loving recruit who decided, after two weeks training, that she was too tired to get up in the morning and go through all that stuff. Everyone all the way up the chain of command tried to persuade her to leave her bed, but the private refused to be swayed. When Lieutenant Adams was informed of this unilateral decision, she marched smartly up the stairs and straight into the dormitory. I understand that you want to stay in bed and rest, Private, she said, addressing the culprit. I am going to oblige you. You are hereby confined to bed for the next three days, with guard. Without another word she wheeled around and departed. More than 45 years later, Adams decided that there would be no harm in divulging what she had done after issuing this order. I went back to my own quarters and shut the door. Then I laughed till I cried.

By the spring of 1943, the WAAC recruitment campaign had become so successful that Adams own Company 8 listed an additional 200 trainees in addition to its usual 200-strong complement. But the huge personnel influx did not lead to any relaxation in her high standards of administration. In fact, her unit ran so smoothly that post commander Colonel Frank Mc-Croskie decided that she was underemployed. It was time for her to move on.

Newly promoted to captain, Adams was now sent to Fort Des Moines Plans and Training Section, where her responsibilities included supervising the training the new recruits were receiving in their efforts to learn photography, office administration, radio operation, and other skills. Part of her job called for frequent travel to bases in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina, and even to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., giving her an itinerary wide enough to observe the ratio of black to white trainees in most fields. Noticing an almost universally sparse number of black women in the transport corps, she tried to carve out a niche for them by pointing this fact out to the top military administrators.

She had set herself a difficult chore, for this was not the only challenge she faced. A second problem, in 1943, was the lack of any uniform military policy that ensured employment for newly graduated black WAACS. Adams found that although some bases were enthusiastic about requisitioning them (Fort Sheridan in Illinois, for example, requisitioned 66 women in 1943; and the all-black 92nd Division at Fort Huachuca in Arizona went furtherwelcoming a 300-strong group of WAACS with a red-carpet parade before placing them as librarians, telephone operators, and chauffeurs), others balked, showing their displeasure by placing the non-white newcomers as cleaners, or keeping them on almost indefinite kitchen duty.

Sometimes the WAACS grudging welcome was not altogether unjustified. As sociologist Brenda Moore notes in her book To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race, fewer than ten percent of African Americans aged 25 or older had completed high school in the 1930s, and the outbreak of war had interrupted study for thousands of others. Hundreds of these dropouts had entered the WAACS, where their skimpy education had brought them low scores on the mandatory Army General Classification Test (AGCT). This in turn had doomed them to the status of the insufficiently qualified even before they had started their vocational training. By August of 1943 there were so many low AGCT scores among black recruits that the War Department vowed to improve matters. As a first step an opportunity school was opened at Fort Des Moines, to bring the educational stragglers up to the standard required for specialization.

Next, WAAC director, Colonel Oveta Hobby, tried to find ways to attract more highly educated women to the service. Reasoning that one path to success lay in stressing the operational importance of the WAAC, she opted for a name change that would close out its image as an auxiliary military service and reinstate it as a branch of the military itself. In mid-1943, therefore, the Womens Auxiliary Army Service became the Womens Army Corps. Mindful that this move could spark wide interest in the press, Hobby asked the help of ACWIS, which not only publicized this change in a brochure called Facts about the Womens Army Corps but also seized the chance to dangle an array of novel occupations for which recruits could be trained in the service. While they were about it, ACWIS stressed that WAC recruits, as members of a branch of military service, would henceforth be eligible for the generous medical and insurance benefits previously enjoyed only by members of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.

DiscriminationAgain

Still, although all this improved matters, black women still found themselves dealing with discrimination in the WACS. Some bases refused so adamantly to accept them that there were 823 qualified women waiting for orders at Fort Des Moines in July of 1943. Others made things uncomfortable by employing them, then branding them as inferiors by steering them to dining tables marked colored or forbidding the higher-ranked among them to use the officers clubs. To try and right this situation and to provide promotion opportunities for the Negro officers, WAC Headquarters proposed the formation of a Negro training regiment exactly parallel to its existing fellow, and headed by recently promoted Major Charity Adams. But Adams herself, vehemently opposed to segregation in any form, did not believe that any such regiment could be truly equal to any existing one. Nor was she naive enough to accept that any purely black outfit would be allowed to exist without white commanders at its very top. She adamantly refused to accept this idea, and was relieved when it faded quietly away.

Nevertheless, questions of black WACS and their deployment continued to arise. One pressing issue, brought to the fore by Mary McLeod Bethune, centered around their exclusion from overseas duty. In December 1944, Major Charity Adams was chosen as the first black WAC to be posted overseas. The following month, in the best of undercover military traditions, she flew to Europe carrying sealed orders detailing her destination and the task that lay ahead. In accordance with Colonel McCroskies strict orders, she opened the envelope after an hour in flight; then, and only then, Adams learned that she was bound for Birmingham, England, to take command of the newly originated 6888th Central Postal Battalion, a unit formed specifically to direct incoming and outgoing mail to the seven million American Red Cross workers, Seabees, and the Air, Navy, and Army personnel stationed in the European Theater of Operations.

The 6888th Central Postal Battalion

A first glimpse of her Birmingham base was enough to show Adams she had several problems to deal with if she wanted her battalion to function efficiently. The first hurdle was her headquarters. A former boys school, it was dimly lit and plagued by the damp and cold of an English winter, a double discomfort making it difficult for her women to cope with mail choked up for months by a personnel shortage. Her next problem was the mobility of the troops, who were often on their way to somewhere else by the time their mail caught up with them.

Briskly she divided her 800-odd women into five companies working three round-the-clock shifts. Then she organized lists to categorize the activities of each military service, to trace elusive recipients, to distinguish between people with common names, and to try different destinations for companies on the move. Finally, with these details finalized, she set a cooperative, rather than an authoritative tone in her battalion. Still, though she tried not bully anyone, she did not hesitate to flex her ranking muscle. Once she even went so far as to have an astonished chaplain removed from his post, for undermining her during a sermon.

In May of 1945, shortly after the death of President Roosevelt, Adams and the 6888th were ordered to Rouen. With a much-reduced staff, they tackled their duties again, moving once more in October of that year. This time, they were sent to Paris, but they were not destined to stay long. The war was over, and it was time to return to America.

Adams was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in December, just three months before she came home to take up her interrupted masters program in psychology at Ohio State University. In August of 1949 she married Stanley Earley, a medical student in Zurich, Switzerland. Two children were born to the family. Although the former lieutenant-colonel was a conscientious mother, the habit of full-time occupation is one that dies hard. Charity Adams continued to spend a great deal of time fulfilling both needs by serving several institutions as a board member. In 1989 Adams received a service to the community award from the Ohio State Senate and in 1991 was honored with doctoral degrees from Wilberforce University and the University of Dayton. Adams spent most of 1995 and 1996 speaking with different interest groups and students about the events of World War II and the role of women, specifically black women, in the military. During an interview with Anne Gaisor about her public speaking, Adams commented, When I talk to students, they say, How did it feel to know you were making history? But you dont know you are making history when its happening. Her continued work with the military and military postal duties earned her honors from the Smithsonians National Postal Museum in 1996. That same year, her book, One Womans Army, was also reissued.

Adams continued to speak and promote her book throughout the 1990s. On January 13, 2002, Charity Adams Earley died in her longtime hometown of Dayton Ohio at the age of 83. Earley will be remembered for many firsts, as a role model for both African-Americans and for women in the military. But perhaps her own answer to questions about her groundbreaking activities during her 1996 interview with the Dayton Daily News is the most telling: I just wanted to do my job.

Selected Writings

One Womans Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC, Texas A & M University, 1989.

Sources

Books

McGuire, Phillip, Taps for a Jim Crow Army: Letters from Black Soldiers in World War II, ABC-Clio, 1983.

Moore, Brenda L. To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race, New York University, 1996.

Putney, Martha S., When the Nation Was in Need, Scarecrow Press, 1992, p. 70.

Periodicals

A.M.E. Christian Recorder, March 25, 1996.

Dayton Daily News, March 23, 1996.

The New York Times, January 22, 2002.

Gillian Wolf and Ralph Zerbonia

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Adams Earley, Charity 1918–

Charity Adams Earley 1918

Former Womens Army Corp Lieutenant-Colonel

Racial Intimidation

Beginning of World War II

The Persuasive Mary McLeod Bethune

Joined WAAC

Opportunities for Black Women

DiscriminationAgain

The 6888th Central Postal Battalion

Sources

The year 1995 brought many celebrations marking the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Some of these celebrations also acknowledged the huge contribution of dedicated black service people, who worked in tandem with their white colleagues to help achieve peace. The Salute to African-Americans in World War II was held on February 17,1995, at Washington, D. C. s Constitution Hall, and Womens Army Corps veteran Lieutenant-Colonel Charity Adams Earley was invited to introduce the guest of honor, President Bill Clinton.

Adams Earley (then Charity Adams), an implacable opponent of segregation as well as a gifted military administrator, tightly focused on duty in both these roles. She became the first black woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Womens Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC). (Auxiliary was later dropped from the name.) Adams Earley retired after the war as the highest ranking black officer in the service.

Adams Earley grew up in a household with a strong belief in education as an indispensable ingredient of success. Her father, a Methodist minister, had been a teenager with enough ambition to leave his farming family to follow his own dream, and enough character to work his way through Johnson H. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Once ordained, Reverend Adams continued to broaden his cultural horizons, safeguarding his hard-won fluency in Greek and Hebrew by reading foreign newspapers. His wifes devotion to her profession as a schoolteacher was just as deep. Though she chose to stay home and raise her four children, her decision in no way prevented her from bringing out a red pencil years after they had all left home, and correcting any errors she found in their letters.

Racial Intimidation

The cultivated and rather scholarly lifestyle of the Adams family did not shield them from the segregation in their South Carolina hometown, Columbia. All around them were traces of supposed white superiority; colored seating signs on buses, whites only warnings on drinking fountains, and even lynchings-all evidence of an increasingly savage bigotry since the end of the Civil

At a Glance

Born in Columbus, SC; married Stanley A. Earley, M.D., 1949, two children. Education: Wilberforce University, B. A, 1938; Ohio State University, M.A, 1946.

U.S. Womens Auxiliary Army Corps, Fort Des Moines, 1942, ThirdTrainingRegiment (OfficersTraining),1942. Author, One Woman s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC, Texas A&M, 1989.

Member: Sinclair Community College, board of trustees, vice-chairperson; Montgomery County Human Service Levy Council, chairperson; United Way, board of directors member; American Red Cross, Dayton, OH, chairperson; Dayton Power and tight, board member, 1979-91.

Selected awards: Top Ten Women of the Miami Valley Dayton Daily News,1965; Black Women Against the Odds, Smithsonian Institution; Ohio Womens Hall of Fame, 1979; honorary doctorates: Wilberforce University and University of Dayton, both 1991.

Addresses: HomeDayton, OH.

War. As devoted parents, they taught their family how to deal with this blatant racism by handling painful incidents calmly and without hysteria-a strategy that paid handsome dividends on at least one nasty evening, as their daughter Charity later recalled.

The occasion was a 1942 visit from robed Ku Klux Klan members, who arrived en masse and sat in their cars all night to show their disapproval of Reverend Adams role as chapter president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. We sat in darkness following our [fathers] instructions, which were to make sure that we did nothing that could be considered provocation, she noted in her autobiography, One Woman s Army. It had been just dusk when we came home, and we could see the men clearly About dawn, the cars left.

Despite such obvious attempts at intimidation, Charity Adams was a good student, graduating as valedictorian of her high school class. She chose to attend Wilberforce University, an Ohio college affiliated with the African Methodist Church. Following her fathers example she worked her way through school, earning her bachelors degree in 1938. Then she returned to Columbia, where she taught mathematics at the local high school while studying part-time for a masters degree in psychology. Three and a half years slid by in tranquil monotony.

Beginning of World War II

For Charity Adams, and millions of other Americans, the events of 1941 changed their lives. In Europe World War II was well under way, with Hitler so sure of success that he boldly invaded Russia in June; in December, Japan announced both its alliance to Germany and its intention of grabbing Eastern Asia by smashing the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Roosevelts immediate declaration of war paradoxically brought black men a range of employment possibilities far greater than those they had previously found in post-Depression America. Those hoping for job opportunities found generous choices in the military, for new War Department policy had recently been revised to bring the numbers of black volunteers into line with the proportion of African Americans in the general population. Most of these men were destined for combat. Alongside them came an escalating tide of former military drivers, cooks, and office managers, whose switch to the fighting forces left long lists of bureaucratic vacancies in the departments they had once staffed.

Substitutes being necessary to ensure smooth behind-the-scenes functioning, the War Department planned an active campaign to attract women. A first step in October of 1941 was the creation of a group called the Advisory Council to the Womens Interests Section (ACWIS). Administered by the War Departments Bureau of Public Relations, ACWIS brought together 33 (later 36) members of the countrys most influential social service organizations. Black women were represented by the charismatic Mary McLeod Bethune.

The Persuasive Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune was a handsome woman of considerable administrative ability. She came to ACWIS as president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), a position she filled while functioning both as director of the National Youth Administrations Negro division, and as a trusted assistant to the secretary for war. As if all this were not enough to make her a woman of significant clout, Bethune also happened to be a close friend of the first lady.

This kaleidoscopic array of roles kept Bethune constantly in the public eye and made her an awe-inspiring role model to the entire black community. In 1942, when she began to make speeches urging young black women to join a new organization called the Womens Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), they paid attention to her words. When she showed them that para-military service could offer them career choices in fields other than nursing, teaching, or domestic service, they were eager to sample the panoply of skills that the military so desperately needed.

Bethunes commanding presence, persuasive speaking ability, and talented pen also made it plain that military life would bring black WAAC members ways to excel at whatever they undertook. In a way, she told them, each of them could now become an ambassador of her racea representative whose excellent performance could help to dispel the commonly held racist view of black inferiority.

While this aspect of Mary McLeod Bethunes campaigning was specifically aimed at the less-qualified, she and the WAAC director, Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, thought just as carefully about ways in which they might attract highly educated women to serve as WAAC officers. Just one move found them asking several colleges for the names of possible candidates. In early 1942 they received a reply from Wilberforce University. On their list was Charity Edna Adams.

Joined WAAC

In June of 1942, Adams mailed the application that had arrived with her personal invitation to join the WAAC. Within a month she was on her way to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, to start her military training. Like millions of other Americans, she had made a decision that would transform her life. However, as she soon discovered, some things had not changed, and segregation was one of them.

This fact was brought home to Adams right after her first-ever military meal, by order of a young white male second-lieutenant: Will all the colored girls move over on this side. Then, he proceeded to tell his stunned audience that separate housing had been provided for black and white recruits. This came as a shock to Adams and the other 38 black women entering the service with her, but they were relieved to learn that this segregation did not extend to their training. Whatever her heritage, each new WAAC learned precision in marching, map reading, obedience, and general competency in the basics of military life.

On August 30, 1942, Charity Adams graduated from her basic training. Two weeks later she became the first black woman to receive a commission in the WAAC, when she was made company commander of the female Basic Training Company located on a new part of the post. Her position was pivotal between her white commanding officers and the newcomers to the WAAC, and her duty was to introduce people to military discipline, culture and life, and provide basic training, or, as she said to make soldiers out of civilians, a mission she carried out with all the efficiency of the experienced schoolteacher she had once been.

Opportunities for Black Women

Certain recollections point to the fact that she also tried to maintain a sense of humor. Nowhere did this come out more strongly than in the case of the sleep-loving recruit who decided, after two weeks training, that she was too tired to get up in the morning and go through all that stuff. Everyone all the way up the chain of command tried to persuade her to leave her bed, but the private refused to be swayed. When Lieutenant Adams was informed of this unilateral decision, she marched smartly up the stairs and straight into the dormitory. I understand that you want to stay in bed and rest, Private, she said, addressing the culprit. I am going to oblige you. You are hereby confined to bed for the next three days, with guard. Without another word she wheeled around and departed. More than 45 years later, Adams decided that there would be no harm in divulging what she had done after issuing this order.I went back to my own quarters and shut the door. Then I laughed till I cried.

By the spring of 1943, the WAAC recruitment campaign had become so successful that Adams own Company 8 listed an additional 200 trainees in addition to its usual 200-strong complement. But the huge personnel influx did not lead to any relaxation in her high standards of administration. In fact, her unit ran so smoothly that post commander Colonel Frank Mc-Croskie decided that she was underemployed. It was time for her to move on.

Newly promoted to captain, Adams was sent to Fort Des Moines Plans and Training Section, where her responsibilities included supervising the training that new recruits were receiving in their efforts to learn photography, office administration, radio operation, and other skills. Part of her job called for frequent travel to bases in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina, and even to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., giving her an itinerary wide enough to observe the ratio of black-to-white trainees in most fields. Noticing an almost universally sparse number of black women in the transport corps, she tried to carve out a niche for them by pointing this fact out to the top military administrators.

She had set herself a difficult chore, for this was not the only challenge she faced. A second problem, in 1943, was the lack of any uniform military policy that ensured employment for newly graduated black WAACs. Adams found that although some bases were enthusiastic about requisitioning them (Fort Sheridan in Illinois, for example, requisitioned 66 women in 1943; and the all-black 92nd Division at Fort Huachuca in Arizona went furtherwelcoming a 300-strong group of WAACs with a red-carpet parade before placing them as librarians, telephone operators, and chauffeurs), others balked, showing their displeasure by placing the non-white newcomers as cleaners, or keeping them on almost indefinite kitchen duty.

Sometimes the WAACs grudging welcome was not altogether unjustified. As sociologist Brenda Moore notes in her book To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race, fewer than 10 percent of African Americans aged 25 or older had completed high school in the 1930s, and the outbreak of war had interrupted study for thousands of others. Hundreds of these dropouts had entered the WAAC, where their skimpy education had brought them low scores on the mandatory Army General Classification Test (AGCT). This in turn had doomed them to the status of the insufficiently qualified even before they had started their vocational training. By August 1943 there were so many low AGCT scores among black recruits that the War Department vowed to improve matters. As a first step an opportunity school was opened at Fort Des Moines, to bring the educational stragglers up to the standard required for specialization. Next, WAAC director Colonel Oveta Hobby tried to find ways to attract more highly educated women to the service. Reasoning that one path to success lay in stressing the operational importance of the WAAC, she opted for a name change that would close out its image as an auxiliary military service and reinstate it as a branch of the military itself. In mid-1943, therefore, the Womens Auxiliary Army Service became the Womens Army Corps (WAC). Mindful that this move could spark wide interest in the press, Hobby asked the help of AC WIS, which not only publicized this change in a brochure called Facts about the Womens Army Corps but also seized the chance to dangle an array of novel occupations for which recruits could be trained in the service. While they were about it, AC WIS stressed that WAC recruits, as members of a branch of military service, would henceforth be eligible for the generous medical and insurance benefits previously enjoyed only by members of the army, the navy, and the air force.

DiscriminationAgain

Although all this improved matters, black women still found themselves dealing with discrimination in the WACs. Some bases refused so adamantly to accept them that there were 823 qualified women waiting for orders at Fort Des Moines in July of 1943. Others made things uncomfortable by employing them, then branding them as inferiors by steering them to dining tables marked colored or forbidding the higher-ranked among them to use the officers clubs. To try and right this situation and to provide promotion opportunities for the Negro officers, WAC Headquarters proposed the formation of a Negro training regiment exactly parallel to its existing fellow, and headed by recently promoted Major Charity Adams. But Adams herself, vehemently opposed to segregation in any form, did not believe that any such regiment could be truly equal to any existing one. Nor was she naive enough to accept that any purely black outfit would be allowed to exist without white commanders at its very top. She adamantly refused to accept this idea, and was relieved when it faded quietly away.

Nevertheless, questions of black WACs and their deployment continued to arise. One pressing issue, brought to the fore by Mary McLeod Bethune, centered around their exclusion from overseas duty. In December of 1944, Major Charity Adams was chosen as the first black WAC to be posted overseas. The following month, in the best of undercover military traditions, she flew to Europe carrying sealed orders detailing her destination and the task that lay ahead. In accordance with Colonel McCroskies strict orders, she opened the envelope after an hour in flight and learned that she was bound for Birmingham, England, to take command of the newly originated 6888th Central Postal Battalion, a unit formed specifically to direct incoming and outgoing mail to the seven million American Red Cross workers, Seabees, and the air, navy, and army personnel stationed in the European Theater of Operations.

The 6888th Central Postal Battalion

A first glimpse of her Birmingham base was enough to show Adams she had several problems to deal with if she wanted her battalion to function efficiently. The first hurdle was her headquarters. A former boys school, it was dimly lit and plagued by the damp and cold of an English winter, a double discomfort making it difficult for her women to cope with mail choked up for months by a personnel shortage. Her next problem was the mobility of the troops, who were often on their way to somewhere else by the time their mail caught up with them.

Briskly she divided the 800 women into five companies working three round-the-clock shifts. Then she organized lists to categorize the activities of each military service, to trace elusive recipients, to distinguish between people with common names, and to try different destinations for companies on the move. With these details finalized, she set a cooperative, rather than an authoritative tone in her battalion. Still, she did not hesitate to flex her ranking muscle. Once she even went so far as to have an astonished chaplain removed from his post, for undermining her during a sermon.

In May of 1945, shortly after the death of President Roosevelt, Adams and the 6888 were ordered to Rouen. With a much-reduced staff, they tackled their duties again, moving once more in October of that year. This time, they were sent to Paris, but they were not destined to stay long. The war was over, and it was time to return to America.

Adams was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in December, just three months before she came home to take up her interrupted masters program in psychology at Ohio State University. In August of 1949 she married Stanley Earley, a medical student in Zurich, Switzerland. Two children were born to the family. Although the former lieutenant-colonel was a conscientious mother. Charity Adams has spent a lifetime fulfilling both needs by serving several institutions as a board member.

Sources

Books

Earley, Charity Adams, One Womans Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC, Texas A&M University, 1989.

McGuire, Phillip, Taps for a Jim Crow Army: Letters from Black Soldiers in World War II, ABC-Clio, 1983.

Moore, Brenda L., To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race, New York University, 1996.

Putney, Martha S., When the Nation Was in Need, Scarecrow Press, 1992, p. 70.

Periodicals

A.M.E. Christian Recorder, March 25, 1996.

Gillian Wolf

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