In honor of Black History Month, the Daily News recalls how African-American women have battled the twin evils of racial and gender discrimination.
Reviewing the troops in England, Maj. Charity Adams (front, right) and Capt. Abbie Campbell inspect Women's Army Corps members assigned to overseas duty during WW II. The soldiers were part of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Batallion, which ran mail operations for U.S. troops in Europe.
They're names you're unlikely to find in most history books - Susan Taylor King, Cathay Williams, Maj. Charity Adams, Maj. Marie Rogers and Lt. Phoebe Jeter. But the collective military histories of these and other black women span a sizable chunk of America's past.
According to the Indiana-based Buffalo Soldiers Research Museum, African-American women have played a role in every war effort in United States history. And black women participated in spite of the twin evils of racial and gender discrimination.
"They endured physical discomfort and personal criticism, while many of their contributions were unrecognized and unrewarded. They placed themselves in danger's path - offering their abilities and strengths to preserve values and ensure freedom," wrote S.A. Sheafer in the book "Women in America's Wars."
Their heroism dates to the Revolutionary War when, inspired by the promise of freedom from slavery, some women served as spies. Others, as narrated by former slave-turned-author Lucy Terry, disguised themselves as men and fought side by side with them against the British.
Harriet Tubman's heroics in the Civil War as a Union spy, volunteer nurse and armed scout reportedly earned the former slave the nickname "General Tubman" from soldiers. Susan Taylor King, another former slave, joined the all-black First South Carolina Volunteers unit as a nurse, and later started a school for children and soldiers.
Pressed into service by Union forces after being freed from a Missouri plantation, Cathay Williams' Civil War story was nothing short of remarkable. More than 80 years before women were allowed to officially enlist in the peacetime Army, she signed up for service in November 1866, giving her name as William Cathay and passing as a man.
For two years -- until she fell ill and her ruse was discovered -- Williams served as a Buffalo Soldier with the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment.
In the Spanish-American War and World War I, black women served valiantly as nurses and in other support roles.
World War II would spawn the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and Maj. Charity Adams, its first black officer. She commanded the first all-black female unit, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion.
"Every single piece of mail that went to Europe passed through this postal battalion," said filmmaker Frank Martin, whose 2010 documentary, "For Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots," lauds the service of Maj. Adams' 855-member battalion.
Adams would spend the last year of the war clearing enormous backlogs of mail, first in Birmingham, England and then Rouen, France.
Two events in 1948 would change the nature of military service for back women. On June 12, President Harry Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, permitting women to join the regular Army. Before that, women -- with the exception of nurses -- served in the military only in times of war. Then on July 26, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the military.
Source: New York Daily News | JAY MWAMBA