Wednesday, February 21, 2018

African American Women in Times of War: While women in the United States Armed Forces share a history of discrimination based on gender, black women have faced both race and gender discrimination. Initially barred from official military status, black women persistently pursued their right to serve.

At the outset of World War I, many trained black nurses enrolled in the American Red Cross hoping to gain entry into the Army or Navy Nurse Corps. As the war escalated, public pressure increased to enlist black women. Finally, shortly after the Armistice, 18 black Red Cross nurses were offered Army Nurse Corps assignments. Assigned to Camp Grant, Illinois, and Camp Sherman, Ohio, they lived in segregated quarters and cared for German prisoners of war and black soldiers. Cessation of hostilities halted plans to assign black nurses to Camp Dodge, Camp Meade, Fort Riley, and Camp Taylor. By August 1919, all black nurses had been released from service as the nursing corps were reduced to their peacetime levels. One of these pioneering women, Aileen Cole Stewart, later wrote, The Story of the Negro nurse in World War I is not spectacular. We arrived after the Armistice was signed, which alone was anticlimactic. So we had no opportunity for “service above and beyond the call of duty;” But each one of us…did contribute quietly and with dignity to the idea that justice demands professional equality for all qualified nurses.

Black women served their country in other capacities as well. Four black women were among the 3,480 “Y” women volunteers who helped soldiers and sailors overseas. At the request of the Army, the YMCA provided recreation for the American Expeditionary Force by staffing canteens, nursing, sewing, baking, and providing amusement and educational activities for the soldiers.

Charity Adams Earley, commander of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion in World War II, summarized the history of women in the military when she wrote in 1989: The future of women in the military seems assured…. What may be lost in time is the story of how it happened. The barriers of sex and race were, and sometimes still are, very difficult to overcome, the second even more than the first. During World War II women in the service were often subject to ridicule and disrespect even as they performed satisfactorily…. Each year the number of people who shared the stress of these accomplishments lessens. In another generation young black women who join the military will have scant record of their predecessors who fought on the two fronts of discrimination—segregation and reluctant acceptance by males

In the past, women, particularly minority women, have always responded when there was a crisis or need. We acknowledge all minority women in uniform. You are the strength of our success. You represent the patchwork quilt of diversity which is America—race, creed, color and ethnicity.

#BlackHistoryMonthHHC #Sheshereforit 

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