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New Exhibit Celebrates History Of Black Women In The U.S. Military

Maj. Charity Adams, Commander, and Captain Abbie Campbell, Executive Officer, inspect the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, in England in February 1945.
National Archives and Records Administration
Maj. Charity Adams, Commander, and Captain Abbie Campbell, Executive Officer, inspect the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, in England in February 1945.
New Exhibit Celebrates History of Black Women In The U.S. Military
New Exhibit Celebrates History of Black Women In The U.S. Military GUESTS: Faye Jonason, museum director, Camp Pendleton History MuseumLt. Col. Patricia Jackson-Kelley, U.S. Army (Ret.)

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. One of the reasons that February is designated as Black history month is the highlight the forgotten and overlooked contributions of black Americans to the nation's history. There's no better example of that that a new exhibit at Camp Pendleton. It is cold for the freedom and the right and highlights the contributions of black women in the US military to photographs, artifacts, and the stories of African-American women from the 19th century and beyond. Joining me is Faye Jonason . Welcome to the program. Thank you. I would like to welcome the retired U.S. Lieutenant Lt.Col. Patricia Jackson-Kelley. She is retired from the Army after 26 your career. Welcome to the program. Thank you. This exhibit was put together in conjunction with the African-American Museum in Los Angeles. How did that come about? It came about sometime ago. It was built-up from artifacts that came in from the museum when I was a registrar there. We saw that we could put this together so now it's a traveling exhibit. This exhibit that we are talking about focuses on the stories of four notable black women who served in the military. Susie King Taylor was a young lady. They figured out if they caught the soldiers coming down the river that they could latch on and find jobs so she got a job. Her family got on with the Army and she became a nurse. Her job was to fire the weapons every morning to make sure they still fired. That is an interesting side. Another woman was Stewart who was one of the nurses that was hired to take care of the influenza epidemic in 1918. They had put them there and then the war ended so they stayed there about a year at this was an epidemic that took 540,000 American lives that they were nursing. Another one is Mary McLeod who was on President Roosevelt's and president Truman supply cabinet. That was sort of a name that they gave to it. She advised the president and started a university in Florida and did many things. She is very famous for the things that she did but she befriended Eleanor Roosevelt and President Roosevelt instituted a law that said that all African-Americans could become part of the service. The last one that we feature and these are just examples of women. These are not meant to be the top women or anything like that. They are meant to be examples of women through time that we should look to. Charity Adams early was a lieutenant colonel in the Army during World War II. She wrote a book. These are just representatives of the African-American women who served in the US military. As they serve as Army nurses and postal clerks and other support roles, they had to serve in segregated units and go through training and live in separate quarters. Can you talk to us about what they had to endure. Some of us women were members of the national Association of Black military women. They serve and worked closely on it. They made sure that the soldiers got their mail on time. They talked about how they had to -- the uniforms that they used word that passed down uniforms from white counterparts and they talked about how they lived in the separate quarters and they were substandard in comparison to the other quarters. I think another example is anyone has the opportunity to watch a movie hidden secrets. It really outlines what the black women were going through because of their race. It was the same thing in the military. I talked to Colonel Adams early in what she wrote in her book about what she went through. The things that she talked about word that there was substandard housing to the point that they had to go out and find doors. They had to build the beds and the place was filthy. Another piece of her story is that she was in that first crew and as a black one when it came to graduation her maiden name is Adams. She would've been the first graduating but because she was black they separated the group so that there were two parts to the graduation. The first people that graduated were white. How much did black women have to fight to gain their representation in the military? There is still some issues and even today we speak with the soldiers and there is still discrimination in the military. Even as this fight goes on the research study found that black women enlisting in higher rates than white women. Why do you think that is? I think it has a lot to do with the society that we live in. The opportunity is just not there as far as employment and education. So some of them view it as an opportunity to get away and do better for themselves. A lot of them just because for the pride that we have for country. How does this exhibit tell the stories of these four women that you mentioned and also the experience of African-American women in the US military? Mostly we have photographs and cutouts of the four women so that you can see what they were like. We have artifacts of uniforms such as Marine Corps uniform that we have on display right now. She was our first sergeant major for Camp Pendleton who was black and a woman. Some of these women as I went through and did world histories and research seems like there is still a lot of first to happen. The exhibit is called for the freedom and the right and will be shown at Santa Margarita rancheros on Camp Pendleton through mid-March and I've been speaking with Faye Jonason and Lt.Col. Patricia Jackson-Kelley . Thank you both very much. Thank you. Be sure to watch the evening addition tonight on KPBS television and join us again tomorrow for KPBS Midday Edition at noon. If you miss a show you can check out the podcast at KPBS.org. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.

An exhibit at Camp Pendleton pays tribute to Black History Month by highlighting the contributions of black women in the U.S. armed forces from the Civil War to World War II.

The exhibit, “For the Freedom and the Right” was organized by the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. It’s on display through mid-March at the Santa Margarita Ranch House National Historic Site on Camp Pendleton.

The exhibit highlights the lives and military careers of four female service members, including Maj. Charity Adams Earley who became the first black woman commissioned as an officer in the Women's Army Corp. As commanding officer, she led the only battalion of black women to serve overseas during World War II. Major Adams wrote about her experience in her memoir "One Woman’s Army".

There are also historical photographs and other artifacts on display.

Faye Jonason, Camp Pendleton’s historian and museum director, curated the exhibit.

Jonason and Lt. Col Patricia Jackson-Kelley of the National Association of Black Military Women, discuss Wednesday on Midday Edition, the successes and struggles of black women in the military.