The United States Army remained segregated during World War II. A group of African American women played a significant role in maintaining troop morale during the conflict. These women belonged to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, part of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was made up of 855 enlisted African American women and officers.(1) The battalion was commanded by Major Charity Adams Earley, the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war.(2) The 6888th was the only all African American, all female battalion.(3) It was deployed overseas first to Birmingham, England then later to Rouen, France.(4)
When the women arrived in Birmingham in 1943 they saw letters stacked to the ceiling of the temporary post office. Much of the mail had been there for as long as two years waiting to be sent to soldiers in the field. The women were charged with delivering mail to approximately seven million American troops stationed in Europe. The successful delivery of the mail was an important morale booster for men on the front. One difficult task was sorting letters to guarantee that they were sent to the correct “John Smith” or “Tommy Jones”. To ensure delivery, women worked three shifts, seven days a week. Mary Ebo, a 6888th veteran, recalled that “the troops were moving so fast the mail couldn’t keep up with them . . . [the women of the 6888th] had a job that had to be done. It wasn’t a pretty job [but] we felt we were doing our part.”(5)
Although they were contributing to the war effort in significant way, the women of the 6888th were still kept separate from the other American troops. The women slept in segregated barracks and ate in segregated dining halls. Major Earley, when recalling her military career, remembered that “We didn’t mix it up. We were segregated two ways, because we were black and because we were women.”(6) Nevertheless, Earley looked back on her time as commander of the Postal Directory Battalion fondly.
The women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion played an important role in World War II by carrying out the important task of delivering mail, by boosting military morale, and by making history as the only battalion of African American women to go overseas.