November 24, 2010

OURstory: Charity Adams Earley (1918-2002)

The folks at the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) recently issued a provocative slideshow called 'The Facts'. It talks about the challenges faced by women in the IT industry.

If it is tough for women in 2010 ... how much tougher must it have been for a Black woman back in the 1940s?

That is the thought that came to me as I learned that Charity Adams Earley will be honored in the America I AM exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center on June 19, 2010 thru January 2, 2011.

It turns out that Earley held a degree in math and physics while attending Wilberforce University and the Ohio State University. She taught and attended graduate school before joining the Army. She did not let racism hinder her superior work. In fact, our BDPA Dayton chapter often celebrates their annual banquet at the auditorium in Sinclair Community College named after her.

At a time when a segregated military provided few opportunities for Blacks, Charity Adams was one of only two to hold a wartime rank in the WACs as high as major. A subsequent promotion made her a lieutenant colonel briefly before she left military service in 1946.

The Army first permitted Black members of the WACs to serve overseas in the winter of 1945, when it created the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-Black unit, and assigned some 850 African American women to it. The unit, based in Birmingham, England, and later in Rouen, France, and Paris, routed mail to millions of members of the armed forces in Europe.

The assignment of Major Adams as the battalion commander seemed a natural choice. Having grown up in Columbia, S.C. -- her father a minister in the A.M.E. Church, her mother a teacher -- she joined the WACs in 1942. She was among 39 Black women in the corps's first training class, at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, and became one of its first Black officers. She then held administrative and command positions at Fort Des Moines for two and a half years.

The members of the 6888th postal unit were the first Black women many Britons in Birmingham had ever seen, and they shattered stereotypes.

"These WACs are very different from the colored women portrayed on the films, where they are usually either domestics or the outspoken old-retainer type or sloe-eyed sirens given to gaudiness of costume and eccentricity in dress," The Birmingham Sunday Mercury said. "The WACs have dignity and proper reserve."
After her military service, she received a master's degree in vocational psychology from Ohio State, then became a dean at Tennessee A&I College and Georgia State College. The Smithsonian Institution has included her in its listing of the historically most important Black women.

In 1996, Mrs. Earley was honored at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum for her wartime service. Before leaving Dayton for the ceremony in Washington, she said: "When I talk to students, they say, 'How did it feel to know you were making history?' But you don't know you're making history when it's happening. I just wanted to do my job."

We need to know OURstory for inspiration and direction. I hope that this blog post has been an eye-opener for you ... and for our daughters!

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