Contrary to what you may have seen in your history books, Black women have always been participants in the military.
Of course, rising the ranks of the armed forces came with it’s gender and racial biases but Black women still persisted. Women of color served in the military as early as the Revolutionary war, acting as spies, keeping soldiers informed about the movements of the British. These women worked during the 1800s with the promise of freedom during the Civil war as well, as nurses, volunteers and cooks.
The Union Army even paid Black women to tend the cotton plantations for the northern government to sell. One of the most infamous women during this time was Harriet Tubman, later nicknamed “General Tubman” for her contributions and courage. But Tubman wasn’t the only Black woman making a name for herself in the American army.
Here are seven Black women who paved the way for women of color in the military:
Charity Edna Early
Early was one of the first Black woman to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, later named the Women’s Army Corps. She became a part of the postal directory service after traveling overseas to Scotland and took command of the 688th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Early also advocated for other Black women in Europe who had nowhere to get their hair styled, to get proper supplies for her officers. With a degree in math and physics from Wilberforce University in Ohio, Early was not only courageous but educated too.
Allen, nicknamed “Lucki” joined the army in 1950 as a Seven Specialist in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). She also served as the Senior Intelligence Analyst, Army Operations Center at Long Binh. Allen was appointed Warrant Officer in 1970, and was only 1/23 female warrant officers in the army. She decided to end her military career when she discovered her name on enemy documents naming her as a human target to be eliminated. Allen was the first and remains the only African-American woman inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame She currently lives in Oakland, CA.
Margaret E. Bailey
Bailey joined the Army Nurse Corps during World War II to not only fight for her freedom, but also citizenship and democracy. Being 1 out of 600 African-American nurses, she joined commission in 1944. After 20 years, she became the first African-American promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and then in 1970, she was promoted to full Colonel. After retirement she became a consultant to the surgeon general to advocate for more minorities in the army.
Johnson began serving in the army in 1955, and sustained her career for almost 20 years. In 1979, she became the first African-American female general in the United States Army and the first Black chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Johnson also served as the director for the Walter Reed Army Institute for Nursing. While still in the army, General Johnson earned her master’s degree from Columbia and her doctorate from Catholic University of America. She was also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Evelyn M. Brown, Edwina Martin and Fannie Jean Cotton
All three of these women were the first Black women commissioned as officers in the Air Force in 1951. They also all graduated from the Air Force Officer Candidate School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Happy Memorial Day!
Who are some unsung heroes that should be celebrated on this year’s holiday?