Much has been written of the daring and patriotic exploits of Black American men who have served in World War II.
But, less known are the stories of Black American military women of WW II who joined in the fight to “make the world safe for democracy”. Here are just a few of the stories of these women whose valor, whose loyalty to their country, and whose courage under fire showed forth their patriotism.
Not known to many people in the history of WWII are the Black women who served in the military. Yes, they did not fight on the battle lines as the men did, but, they still made a major impact in their dedicated service in WWI II. Black American women also fought to serve in the war effort as nurses. Despite early protests that black nurses treating white soldiers would not be appropriate, the War Department relented, and the first group of Black American nurses in the Army Nurse Corps arrived in England in 1944.
Not well known is the important efforts of the famous 6888TH Central Postal Battalion:
-6888TH (aka the “Six Triple Eight”) Central Postal Battalion:
148. “The first Negro WACs to arrive [on] the continent of Europe were 800 girls of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Bn, who had also been the first to arrive in England. After the battalion had set up its facilities at Rouen, France, it held an `open house’, which was attended by hundreds of Negro soldiers. Pvt. Ruth L. James,…of the battalion area is on duty at the gate.” May 26, 1945.Pfc. Stedman. 111-SC-23707. (african_americans_wwii_148.jpg)
Lt.(jg.) Harriet Ida Pickens and Ens. Frances Wills, the first African-American Waves to be commissioned. December 21, 1944
147. “Capt. Della H. Raney, Army Nurse Corps, who now heads the nursing staff at the station hospital at Camp Beale, CA, has the distinction of being the first Negro nurse to report to yuty in the present war…” April 11, 1945. 208-PU-161K-1. (african_americans_wwii_147.jpg)
145. “Auxiliaries Ruth Wade and Lucille Mayo (left to right) further demonstrate their ability to service trucks as taught them during the processing period at Fort Des Moines and put into practice at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.” December 8, 1942. Oster. 111-SC-16246. (african_americans_wwii_145.jpg)
152. “Lt. Florie E. Gant…tends a patient at a prisoner-of war hospital somewhere in England.” October 7, 1944. 112-SGA-Nurses-44-1676. (african_americans_wwii_152.jpg)
158. “Cmdr. Thomas A. Gaylord, USN (Ret’d), administers oath to five new Navy nurses commissioned in New York…” Phyllis Mae Dailey, the Navy’s first African-American nurse, is second from the right. March 8, 1945. 80-G-4836. (african_americans_wwii_158.jpg)
There were also Black women pilots as well. Many of you may know of the valiant courage under fire that was exemplified by the Black men of the Tuskegee Airmen fame, but, how many of you know of Ms. Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg? She was one of the few Black women pilots who became a pilot through the Tuskegee Airmen pilot program.
In addition to being denied entrance into the WASPS, where one White woman (Vice President of the Ninety-Nines) stated that she “did not know what to do with a Black woman”, Ms. Bragg was also denied her licence by the first examiner because as he put it, he had never given a Black woman a licence to fly, and he was not going to start doing it then. Ms. Bragg later went on to receive her licence from another instructor.
I’m not afraid of tomorrow because I’ve seen yesterday, and today is beautiful.” – Janet Bragg (1991) In 1939, when the National Airmen’s Association of America was formed, two women were among the founding members, both determined young African- Americans eager to learn and enter the still evolving world of aviation. One was Willa Brown, the other Janet Bragg. Born Janet Harmon in Griffin, Georgia on March 24, 1907, she gained her interest in aviation while still in her formative years. “As a child I always wanted to fly . . . I used to watch the birds – – how they would take off and land,” she said in an interview with the Arizona Historical Society in 1989. One day in 1933 in Chicago, she saw a billboard across the street with a drawing of a bird building a nest with chicks inside. The caption on the billboard read: “Birds learn to fly. Why can’t you” That day she knew where her future lay. A registered nurse who received her degree and training from Spellman College and MacBicar Hospital, both Black institutions respectively, Bragg enrolled at Curtis Wright School of Aeronautics in 1933. Despite constant harassment by fellow students, she completed her course work and helped build an airport and hangar in Robbins, Illinois. She bought the hangar’s first plane.
Like many African Americans during a time of rigid segregation, Bragg continued to meet opposition in her pursuit of a career in commercial and military aviation. She was denied entry into the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots (WASPs), being told by Ethel Sheehy, then vice president of the ’99s and Women’s Flying Training Detachment executive officer, that she didn’t know what to do with a Black woman. Undaunted, she flew to Tuskegee, .Alabama to train with Charles Alfred “Chief” Anderson and his instructors in the civilian program so that she could be given an exam for her commercial pilot’s license. However, the white examiner denied her this right after she landed from her trial flight. He exclaimed to Anderson that, “Well, I tell you Chief, she gave me a ride I’ll put up with any of your flight instructors. I’ve never given a colored girl a commercial pilot’s license, I don’t intend to now-.” The same year (1942), however, she was awarded her license by another examiner after 30-40 minutes of flight.
Even more left out of the picture, are the thousands of Black women “Rosie the Riveter” workers back home in America doing their part to help the war effort along. The White face of Rosie the Riveter is well-known, but, as seen here, the Rosies came in many racial groups.
But, there were many Black women who helped in the production of armaments for the war. Many Black women left the menial life of domestic servitude to earn better salaries, provide for their families, and help the men fighting overseas in Europe, North Africa and Asia.
A real-life “Rosie the Riveter” operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, TN, working on an A-31 Vengeance dive bomber, February, 1943. (Author: Alfred T. Palmer, U.S. Office of War Information).
Women workers at quartermaster depot. The tradition of Betsy Ross is being kept alive in this quatermaster corps depot where this young woman worker assists in the creation of American flags for military activitities. Philadelphia Quartermaster Corps. (SOURCE)
New Britain, Connecticut. Women welders at the Landers, Frary, and Clark plant. (SOURCE)
D-Day. V-E Day. V-J Day. Battle of the Bulge. Pacific Theater.
So many battles that still wear a whiteface.
The dedication that many Black American women showed during WWII is exemplary.
That they fought two enemies—–overseas, and back in America—-is a true testament to their courage and bravery.
Patriotism has no color.
BOOKS GOOGLE: “BITTER FRUIT: AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN IN WORLD WAR II“
“THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ROSIE THE RIVETER: INVISIBLE WORKING WOMEN“, BY SUE DAVENPORT
BITTER FRUIT: AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN IN WORLD WAR II – Paperback (Nov. 25, 1999) by MAUREEN HONEY