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To Serve My Country, to Serve My Race: The Story of the Only African-American WACS Stationed Overseas During World War II

Brenda L. Moore
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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    To Serve My Country, to Serve My Race
    Book Description:

    I would have climbed up a mountain to get on the list [to serve overseas]. We were going to do our duty. Despite all the bad things that happened, America was our home. This is where I was born. It was where my mother and father were. There was a feeling of wanting to do your part.--Gladys Carter, member of the 6888th To Serve My Country, to Serve my Race is the story of the historic 6888th, the first United States Women's Army Corps unit composed of African-American women to serve overseas. While African-American men and white women were invited, if belatedly, to serve their country abroad, African-American women were excluded for overseas duty throughout most of WWII. Under political pressure from legislators like Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the NAACP, the black press, and even President Roosevelt, the U.S. War Department was forced to deploy African-American women to the European theater in 1945.African-American women, having succeeded, through their own activism and political ties, in their quest to shape their own lives, answered the call from all over the country, from every socioeconomic stratum. Stationed in France and England at the end of World War II, the 6888th brought together women like Mary Daniel Williams, a cook in the 6888th who signed up for the Army to escape the slums of Cleveland and to improve her ninth-grade education, and Margaret Barnes Jones, a public relations officer of the 6888th, who grew up in a comfortable household with a politically active mother who encouraged her to challenge the system. Despite the social, political, and economic restrictions imposed upon these African-American women in their own country, they were eager to serve, not only out of patriotism but out of a desire to uplift their race and dispell bigoted preconceptions about their abilities. Elaine Bennett, a First Sergeant in the 6888th, joined because "I wanted to prove to myself and maybe to the world that we would give what we had back to the United States as a confirmation that we were full- fledged citizens." Filled with compelling personal testimony based on extensive interviews, To Serve My Country is the first book to document the lives of these courageous pioneers. It reveals how their Army experience affected them for the rest of their lives and how they, in turn, transformed the U.S. military forever.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6324-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    World War II marked a turning point in the status of racial minorities and women in the U.S. armed services. The nature of the conflict challenged existing forms of social stratification in the Army, as well as in other American institutions. Previous military restrictions placed on race were lifted as a result of the Selective Service Training Act of 1940, and African American men were recruited for the war effort in greater numbers than in previous wars. They also served in a greater variety of military assignments.

    Opportunities for women were also expanding, beginning with the establishment of the Women’s...

  8. 2 A Changing Military Structure
    (pp. 24-48)

    As society changes, so does the military, albeit often at a different rate. Changes in social relations that began during World War II resulted in part from an advanced industrial economy as well as from the war itself. The transition from an agrarian to an industrial society was accelerated because of the need for more expedient war production. This war was more mechanized than previous wars, and American factories were able to produce war goods at unprecedented speed: automobile factories manufactured tanks; typewriter factories manufactured machine guns.

    With massive numbers of white men deployed abroad to fight, millions of American...

  9. 3 Fight Our Battles and Claim Our Victories
    (pp. 49-83)

    In their daily effort to negotiate the world, African American women are forced to confront the indignities of either racism or sexism, and often both simultaneously. This fact is conspicuous in the experiences of African American Waacs/Wacs. As black Americans they were forced to live, eat, and often work in separate facilities, in remote areas of military installations. As women they were subjected to the harsh and slanderous rumors directed toward all women in the military. African American Waacs/Wacs struggled to influence policy changes within a hierarchically structured organization founded and operating on sexist and racist principles.

    The combination of...

  10. 4 Just American Soldiers Going to Do a Job
    (pp. 84-108)

    Only a few occupations were available to African Americans before World War II. Although most black professionals in the 1940s were either schoolteachers or ministers, certainly African American doctors, scientists, and lawyers existed in black communities. In addition, only a small percentage of clerical workers in the labor force were African Americans. Most black businesses in the North were beauty parlors, barbershops, cleaners, and restaurants.¹ There were some black-owned insurance companies and manufacturing companies in the southern region of the country. ² The largest proportion of black workers, however, was concentrated in domestic, service, semiskilled, and laborer positions.³

    As indicated...

  11. 5 Serving in the European Theater of Operations, January 1945–March 1946
    (pp. 109-143)

    During the first few days in Europe, Adams and Campbell flew to Paris to report to Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee, the commanding general of the Communication Zone, ETO. Upon arrival in Paris they were met by Maj. Mary Weems, assistant WAC director for Headquarter Communication Zone, ETO. Later they met with Brig. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., Headquarters Staff, Communication Zone, ETO. Noel Campbell Mitchell told me that General Davis’s aide and nephew, Lt. John Overton, was once a high school classmate of hers. Mitchell also said that she had known General Davis for many years at Tuskegee...

  12. 6 Life after Military Service
    (pp. 144-178)

    In chapters 1 and 2 I examined what civilian life was like for members of the 6888th before they entered the military. In this chapter I discuss how military service affected their lives after the unit was disbanded. Although some members of the unit remained in the active armed services after they returned to the United States, most of them immediately reentered civilian society to reap some of the benefits of service. When these women joined the military, they expected the United States to win the war; they looked forward to expanded opportunities when they returned home. Not only did...

  13. All photographs
    (pp. None)
  14. 7 Cohesion, Conflict, and Phenomenology
    (pp. 179-198)

    My final analysis of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion is informed by three important sociological theories: social cohesion, social conflict, and phenomenology. Social cohesion has always been of interest to military scholars because of its consequences for unit performance. Although few studies have focused on the social cohesion of support units during World War II (and none on female military units), many factors have been found to influence morale, cohesion, and esprit de corps among combat personnel. Some of these findings are not directly applicable to support units such as the 6888th, but other, more general findings are.


  15. 8 Epilogue
    (pp. 199-202)

    In April 1981 a few former members of the 6888th took a nostalgic trip back to England and France. In Birmingham they were greeted by the lord mayor, Councillor Joseph Bailey, who gave a reception in their honor. After having lunch with city officials, they were given a tour of Birmingham. Essie Woods declares, “We were treated royally…. They rolled out the red carpet for us; we just weren’t expecting all that.”¹ The women were also met by British diplomats in London; the events they attended are described in a newspaper article: “They lunched with Lord Mayor Colonel Sir Ronald...

  16. Appendix A. Interviewees
    (pp. 203-208)
  17. Appendix B. Survey of Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion
    (pp. 209-216)
  18. Appendix C. Roster Containing Names, Ranks, and Serial Numbers of 742 6888th Members
    (pp. 217-230)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 231-256)
  20. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-264)
  21. Index
    (pp. 265-272)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)