The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, nicknamed the “Six Triple Eight”, was an all-black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The 6888th had 855 black women, both enlisted and officers, and was led by Major Charity Adams. It was the only all-black, all-female battalion sent overseas during World War II. The group motto was “No mail, low morale”.

 

The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, nicknamed the "Six Triple Eight", was a predominantly black battalion of the Women's Army Corps (WAC). The 6888th had 855 women, amongst whom were three Latinas, both enlisted and officers, and was led by Major Charity Adams.[1] It was the only predominantly all-black US Women's Army Corps unit sent overseas during World War II.[1] The group motto was "No mail, low morale".[2] The battalion was organized into five companies, Headquarters, Company A, Company B, Company C, and Company D.[3] Most of the 6888th worked as postal clerks, but others were cooks, mechanics and held other support positions, so that the 6888th was a self-sufficient unit.[4]

6888th Central Postal Battalion
Members of the Battalion in a May 1945 parade honoring Joan d'Arc where she had been burned at the stake
Active1945–1946
CountryUnited States
BranchUS Army
RolePostal service
Part ofWomen's Army Corps
Nickname(s)Six Triple Eight
Motto(s)No mail, low morale
Commanders
Current
commander
Major Charity Adams

History

 
Private Ruth L. James at the gates of the battalion's facility in Rouen during a 1945 "open house" attended by hundreds of other African American soldiers
 
Second Lieutenant Freda le Beau serving Major Charity Adams a soda at the opening of the battalion's snack bar in Rouen
6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion African-American WACs, Hull & Cambridge, England, 04/14/1945

During World War II, there was a significant shortage of soldiers who were able to manage the postal service for the U.S. Army overseas.[5] In 1944, Mary McLeod Bethune worked to get the support of the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, for "a role for black women in the war overseas."[6] Black newspapers, too, challenged the U.S. Army to "use black women in meaningful Army jobs."[7]

The women who signed up went to basic training in Georgia.[6] Women who were already in the WAC, like Alyce Dixon, served at different locations, including the Pentagon, before they joined the 6888th.[8]

Great Britain

The 6888th left the United States on February 3, 1945, sailing on the fast liner Île de France and arriving in Glasgow[2] on February 12.[6] The Île de France encountered several German U-boats on the trip, forcing the ship to take evasive maneuvers.[9] The ship reached Glasgow safely. The battalion was transported by train to Birmingham.[2] On 15 February the unit was inspected and marched in review before Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee, Commanding General, Communications Zone, European Theater of Operations (ETO), and Maj Gen. Robert McGowan Littlejohn, Chief Quartermaster, ETO, whose responsibilities included the mail.

Army officials believed that undelivered mail was hurting morale. Many letters and packages had only the first name of the intended recipient, had a commonly used name or used nicknames.[2] There was estimated to be a backlog of 17 million items.[10]

The 6888th devised their own system to handle the backlog of mail.[9] This included creating and maintaining a card index of names of those with the same or similar names, using military serial numbers to distinguish between them. This finally contained 7 million cards.[10] The women of the 6888th worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in three shifts, processing and delivering mail – a morale booster – to fighting troops in Europe.[1] Each shift handled an estimated 65,000 pieces of mail.[5] In total, the unit handled mail for over four million military and civilians, and cleared backlogs in the UK and France.[10]

Early in the operation, a white general attempted to send a white officer to "tell them how to do it right," but Major Adams responded, "Sir, over my dead body, sir!".[6] The battalion finished what was supposed to be a six-month task in three months in May 1945.[9]

The Battalion lived and worked in temporary, wooden buildings at King Edward's School in Edgbaston, which had been requisitioned in 1939 by the British War Office for use by the British and US armies.[11] The thirty-two officers lived in three houses opposite and, because the 6888th was a segregated unit, the women slept and ate in different locations from the white, male soldiers.[1] Cold weather when they arrived meant the women had to wear coats and extra clothes when working in the unheated temporary buildings.[2]

Some of the women felt that the European local people treated them better than people did in the United States.[12][13] However, there was evidence of sexist and racist treatment by male soldiers.[10]

A chaplain working at Birmingham caused problems for Adams, ordering her soldiers not to report to work, but to report to his office, causing them to be AWOL.[3] Adams had to "'counsel' him to let the women alone, "reminding him that she was in charge of the women's assignments".[3]

France

Once the backlog in Birmingham had been dealt with, the 6888th crossed the Channel to Le Havre in May 1945 and was transported by train to Rouen[2] to deal with another backlog of mail there, some of the letters being three years old.[2] The military police in the WAC unit were not allowed to have weapons, so they used jujitsu to keep out "unwanted visitors".[2] The 6888th participated in a parade ceremony at the place where Joan of Arc was executed.[9]

By October 1945, the mail in Rouen had been cleared and the 6888th was sent to Paris.[2] They marched through the city and were housed in a luxurious hotel, where they received first-class treatment.[12] During this time, because the war was over, the battalion was reduced by 300 women, with a further 200 to be discharged in January 1946.[2]

Post-war

In February 1946, the unit returned to the United States where it was disbanded at Fort Dix, New Jersey.[2] There was no public recognition for their service at the time.[6]

Legacy

Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion were awarded the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal during their service.[9] In 2019, the U.S. Army awarded the 6888th a Meritorious Unit Commendation.[14][15]

On February 25, 2009, the battalion was honored at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.[2] The event was attended by three former unit members of the 6888th including Alyce Dixon, Mary Ragland, and Gladys Shuster Carter.[2] Dixon and Ragland were also honored by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in 2009.[16]

On March 15, 2016, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion was inducted into the U.S. Army Women's Foundation Hall of Fame.[a] Battalion veteran Elsie Garris attended the Induction Ceremony.[18][19]

On November 30, 2018, Fort Leavenworth dedicated a monument to the women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Five women from the battalion—Maybeel Campbell, Elizabeth Johnson, Lena King, Anna Robertson, and Deloris Ruddock—were present at the dedication.[20]

On May 13, 2019, US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson presented a blue plaque to King Edward's School to commemorate the 6888th's achievements while in Birmingham. The plaque now features on the route of guided tours organised by Birmingham's Black Heritage Walks Network.[11][21]

On February 12, 2021, U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada)[10] introduced bipartisan legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the members of the Women's Army Corps, who were assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during World War II. U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) introduced the companion legislation in the House where it passed unanimously.[15]

On March 14, 2022, President Biden signed a bipartisan bill to award the battalion the Congressional Gold Medal.[10]

As of 2022, only six members survived: Romay Davis,[b] Cresencia Garcia,[c] Fannie McClendon,[d] Gladys E. Blount,[e] Lena King,[f] and Anna Mae Robertson.[g]

The battalion has been the subject of several film and theatre projects. In 2019, the documentary The SixTripleEight: No Mail, Low Morale directed by historian James Theres was released. Theres suggested to Colonel Edna Cummings, who helped lead an effort for the monument to the Six Triple Eight in Fort Leavenworth, that the women should be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.[22] In 2022, the story of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion inspired the development of a new musical, with the working title of "6888: The Musical", with Blair Underwood as executive producer.[23] Tyler Perry wrote, directed, and produced an upcoming Netflix film, Six Triple Eight, based on the 6888 Postal Directory Battalion, starring Kerry Washington as Charity Adams.[24]

Three women from the battalion who were killed in a Jeep accident—Mary H. Bankston, Mary Jewel Barlow and Dolores Mercedes Browne—were buried at the Normandy American Cemetery, three of only four women to be interred there alongside more than 9,000 men. (The fourth, Elizabeth Ann Richardson, was a Red Cross volunteer killed in a Piper Cub plane crash near Rouen in July 1945.)[22]

Notes

References

  1. ^ a b c d Boyd, Deanna; Chen, Kendra. "The History and Experience of African Americans in America's Postal Service: The 6888th: Women Who Managed the Military's Mail". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Archived from the original on 2 April 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Fargey, Kathleen (14 February 2014). "African-Americans in the U.S. Army: 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion". U.S. Army Center of Military History. Archived from the original on 18 April 2023.
  3. ^ a b c Earley, Charity Adams (1995). One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 157–158, 174. ISBN 9780890966945. Archived from the original on 2023-12-22. Retrieved 2021-12-21.
  4. ^ 6888th Postal Battalion. ABC-CLIO. 2003. p. 363. ISBN 9781576077467. Archived from the original on 2023-12-22. Retrieved 2021-12-26.
  5. ^ a b Bielakowski, Alexander M., ed. (2013). Ethnic and Racial Minorities in the U.S. Military: A-L. ABC-CLIO. p. 654. ISBN 9781598844276. Archived from the original on 2023-12-22. Retrieved 2021-12-26.
  6. ^ a b c d e Thomas-Lester, Avis (26 February 2009). "Neither Rain, Nor Racial Bias". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 27 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  7. ^ "Margaret E. Jones, Retired Army Major". Aiken Standard. 27 April 2000. Archived from the original on 2 March 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016 – via Newspaper Archive.
  8. ^ Deppisch, Breanne (2 February 2016). "Alyce Dixon, Nation's Oldest Female World War II Veteran, Dies at 108". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 3 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d e Stephenson, Lori. "Women of Courage, Tenacity & Strength". Our Heritage. Archived from the original on 7 February 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Yang, Maya (March 18, 2022). "'Long-overdue': all-Black, female second world war battalion to receive congressional gold medal". www.theguardian.com. Archived from the original on March 18, 2022. Retrieved March 18, 2022.
  11. ^ a b The Old Edwardians Gazette, Issue 303, July 2023.
  12. ^ a b "Mary Ragland". African Americans in the U.S. Army. U.S. Army. Archived from the original on 30 March 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  13. ^ Flash, Oprah; Johnston, Amy (2023-07-05). "Six Triple Eight: The battalion of black women erased from history". BBC News Online. Archived from the original on 2023-07-05. Retrieved 2023-07-06.
  14. ^ "Six Triple Eight Congressional Gold Medal Campaign". American Veterans Center. Retrieved 2024-01-23.
  15. ^ a b "Black female WWII unit recognized with congressional honor". NBC News. Associated Press. 2022-03-01. Retrieved 2024-01-23.
  16. ^ Kruzel, John J. "First Lady Advocates for Military Women, Families in Predecessor's Mold". DoD News. U.S. Department of Defense. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  17. ^ Women of the 6888th Partial (849/855) roster by State Archived 2023-04-30 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ "2016 Hall of Fame Inductees". Army Women's Foundation. Retrieved 2020-03-22.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion". Army Women's Foundation. Archived from the original on 2020-06-11. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  20. ^ "Parade honoring Joan d'Arc, Rouen, France May 27, 1945". Women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. 2019. Archived from the original on April 5, 2019. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
  21. ^ "The SixTripleEight: No Mail, Low Morale". The National WW2 Museum of New Orleans. 2021. Archived from the original on 2023-08-13. Retrieved 2023-08-13.
  22. ^ a b Jennie Rothenberg Gritz (March 2023). "Women Who Shaped History: How an All-Black Female WWII Unit Saved Morale on the Battlefield". Smithsonian Magazine. Archived from the original on 2023-02-23. Retrieved 2023-02-23.
  23. ^ Lang, Brent (3 March 2022). "Barrier-Breaking All-Black Female WWII Battalion Inspires New Musical From Glair Underwood". Variety. Variety Media, LLC. Archived from the original on 23 February 2023. Retrieved 23 February 2023.
  24. ^ Jackson, Angelique (February 16, 2023). "Tyler Perry, Kerry Washington Share First Look at Netflix World War II Film 'Six Triple Eight'". Variety. Variety Media LLC. Archived from the original on February 23, 2023. Retrieved February 23, 2023.

Further reading

External links

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