|Birth: ||Dec. 5, 1918|
North Carolina, USA
|Death: ||Jan. 13, 2002|
Charity Edna Adams was born to parents who strongly believed in education and were high achievers. Her father worked his way through Johnson H. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina, became fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and was ordained as a Methodist minister. Her mother was devoted to her profession as a schoolteacher. With this type of family environment, it came as no surprise that Charity was a good student.
She graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and then obtained a B.A. degree from Wilberforce University in 1938. Charity then returned to her hometown of Columbia, SC, where she taught mathematics at the local high school while studying part-time for a M.A. degree in Psychology. (She received that degree from Ohio State University in 1946.)
As World War II was getting underway in 1941, the War Department planned a campaign to attract women to fill administrative vacancies in military units once staffed by soldiers that were now assigned to fighting units. In October 1941, the Advisory Council to the Women's Interests Section (ACWIS) was created. Administered by the War Department's Bureau of Public Relations, ACWIS brought together 33 (later 36) members of the country's most influential social service organizations. At ACWIS, black women were represented by Mary McLeod Bethune who was president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), and director of the National Youth Administration's Negro Division. She was also a trusted Assistant to the Secretary of War and a close friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
Bethune made speeches urging young black women to join a new organization called the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). She showed them that paramilitary service could offer career choices in fields other than nursing, teaching, or domestic service. While this aspect of campaigning was aimed at the less-qualified, Bethune and Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, WAAC director, considered ways to find highly educated women to serve as WAAC officers. They asked several colleges to supply names of potential candidates, and the list they received from Wilberforce University in early 1942 included the name of Charity Edna Adams.
In June 1942, Charity mailed her application to join the WAAC and, within a month, she was on her way to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for military training. On August 30, 1942, Charity Adams graduated from basic training. Two weeks later, she became the first black woman to receive a commission in the WAAC, and was made Company Commander of the female Basic Training Company at Fort Des Moines. Her role between her white commanding officers and the new WAAC recruits was vital. Her duty was to provide the basic training that introduced women to military discipline, culture, and life; or, as she put it "to make soldiers out of civilians."
Charity carried out her mission with great efficiency and, by the spring of 1943, the WAAC recruitment campaign had become so successful that Adams' own Company 8 had an additional 200 trainees besides its usual complement of 200. Yet the huge personnel influx did not lead to any relaxation of her high standards of command. In fact, her unit ran so smoothly that Post Commander Colonel Frank McCroskie decided that she was being under-utilized and that it was time for her to move on.
As a newly promoted Captain, Adams was sent to Fort Des Moines' Plans and Training Section, where she supervised the training of new recruits in photography, office administration, radio operation, and other skills. Part of her job called for travel to bases in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina; even to the Pentagon in Washington, DC. This enabled Charity to observe the ratio of black to white trainees in most fields and she noticed the meager number of black women in the Transportation Corps. She tried to carve out a niche for them by pointing out this fact to top military administrators.
Adams faced many challenges. In 1943, no uniform policy existed to ensure usage of newly-graduated black WAACS. Some bases were enthusiastic about using them as librarians, telephone operators, and chauffeurs; others balked and expressed their displeasure by using the black newcomers as cleaners, or for kitchen duty. The sometimes-reluctant welcome for black WAAC's wasn't always unjustified: Fewer than ten percent of them, aged 25 or older, had completed high school in the 1930s, and the outbreak of war had interrupted study for thousands of others. As hundreds of these dropouts entered the WAACS, their skimpy education led to low scores on the Army General Classification Test (AGCT). By August 1943, there were so many low AGCT scores among black recruits that the War Department vowed to improve matters. As a first step, an ‘opportunity school' was opened, at Fort Des Moines, to bring the education-deprived stragglers up to the standard required for specialization training.
Colonel Oveta Hobby tried to find ways to attract more highly educated women to the WAAC. She opted for a change that would close out the auxiliary service and reinstate it as a branch of the military itself. So, in mid-1943, the WAAC became the Women's Army Corps (WAC). The WAC offered an array of novel occupations for which recruits could be trained; it also offered the generous medical and insurance benefits previously enjoyed only by members of the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.
Although this change was an improvement, black women still dealt with discrimination in the WAC. Some bases refused to accept them; others made things uncomfortable by employing them, then making them use dining tables marked ‘colored' or denying WAC officers use of the officers' clubs. To rectify this situation, WAC Headquarters proposed forming a black training regiment to be commanded by the recently promoted Major Charity Adams. But Adams vehemently opposed segregation and did not believe that such a regiment could be truly equal to existing ones. She adamantly refused to accept this idea and it faded quietly away.
The question of black WACS and their deployment continued to arise. For instance, they were excluded from overseas duty. In December 1944, Major Charity Adams became the first black WAC to be posted overseas. The following month she went to Birmingham, England, to take command of the newly originated 6888th Central Postal Battalion, a unit formed specifically to direct incoming and outgoing mail to the seven million American Red Cross workers, Seabees, and the Air, Navy, and Army personnel stationed in the European Theater of Operations (ETO).
Adams had several issues to deal with at her Birmingham base if she wanted her battalion to function efficiently. The first hurdle was the 6888th Headquarters; it was dimly lit and plagued by the damp and cold of the English winter. This discomfort made it difficult for her WAC's to cope with months of accumulated mail caused by a personnel shortage. Her second problem was the mobility of the troops; they were often on their way to somewhere else before their mail could catch up with them. She quickly divided her 800+ women into five companies working three around-the-clock shifts. Then she organized lists to categorize the activities of each military service, to trace elusive recipients, to distinguish between people with common names, and to try different destinations for companies on the move.
In May 1945, shortly after the death of President Roosevelt, Adams and the 6888th Battalion were ordered to Rouen. With a greatly reduced staff, they once more tackled their duties. They moved again in October 1945, this time to Paris. However, they didn't stay long; the war was over and it was time to return to America. Charity was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in December 1945, just three months before she came home to complete her master's degree in psychology at Ohio State University.
Charity married a medical student, Stanley A. Earley, Jr., in August 1949, and they moved to Switzerland where he attended medical school. She learned to speak German and then began taking psychology courses there. Upon their return to the U.S., they settled in Dayton, Ohio. Charity and Stanley had two children, a son, Stanley III; and a daughter, Judith. Although she was a loving, conscientious mother, Charity also felt a need to have an ‘occupation.' Her first civilian jobs were in Ohio, where she worked for the Veterans Administration and for Miller Music Academy before moving to Nashville to take a position at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial University (now Tennessee State University) as Director of Student Personnel. She then accepted a position at Georgia State College in Savannah as Director of Student Personnel and Assistant Professor of Education.
In addition to raising a son and daughter who are themselves professionals, Charity devoted much of her life to community service. Organizations she served for many years included the United Way; the Black Leadership Development Program (as co-director); the Board of Directors of Dayton Power and Light; the Dayton Metro Housing Authority; Dayton Opera Company; the board of governors of the American Red Cross; and the board of trustees of Sinclair Community College. She was a volunteer with the United Negro College Fund; the Urban League; and the YWCA. Admitting that sometimes she was a ‘token' woman or black, she also said that she was highly qualified for all the positions she held. In 1989, Charity published a book about her military experiences, "One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC" and was interviewed on National Public Radio.
Most of 1995-96 was spent speaking with interest groups and students about the events of World War II and the role of women, specifically black women, in the military. During an interview about her public speaking, Adams commented, "When I talk to students, they say, 'How did it feel to know you were making history?' But you don't know you are making history when it's happening." Her ongoing work with the military, and military postal duties, earned her honors from the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in 1996. That same year, her book, "One Woman's Army," was reissued.
Charity received the following awards:
Top Ten Women of the Miami Valley Dayton Daily News, 1965; Black Women Against the Odds, Smithsonian Institution, 1982; Ohio Women's Hall of Fame, 1979; Service to the Community Award from the Ohio State Senate, 1989; South Carolina Black Hall of Fame Inductee, 1991; Honorary doctorates from Wilberforce University and University of Dayton, both 1991; Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame Inductee, 1993; National Postal Museum honoree, Smithsonian Institution, 1996; and inclusion in the BellSouth African-American History, 1997.
Charity Edna Adams Earley died at age 83 on January 13, 2002. Many will remember Earley for her groundbreaking activities: She was the first black commissioned officer in the WAC and then, as a Lieutenant Colonel, the highest ranking black officer in the WAC. However, in her 1996 interview with the Dayton Daily News, her answer to questions about these role-model events was extremely simple: "I just wanted to do my job."
LTC Charity E. Earley has Honoree Record 3193 at MilitaryHallofHonor.com.
Bio compiled by Charles A. Lewis
Stanley A Earley (1919 - 2007)*
Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum
Created by: Charles A. Lewis
Record added: Nov 06, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 61205558