Book Review: Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell
Standing Up Against Hate tells the stories of the African American women who enlisted in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in World War II. They quickly discovered that they faced as many obstacles in the armed forces as they did in everyday life. However, they refused to back down. They interrupted careers and left family, friends, and loved ones to venture into unknown and sometimes dangerous territory. They survived racial prejudice and discrimination with dignity, succeeded in jobs women had never worked before, and made crucial contributions to the military war effort. The book centers around Charity Adams, who commanded the only black WAAC battalion sent overseas and became the highest ranking African American woman in the military by the end of the war. Along with Adams’s story are those of other black women who played a crucial role in integrating the armed forces. Their tales are both inspiring and heart-wrenching. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.
You know what I know literally nothing about? The role of black women in WWII. This book certainly changed that. Immensely readable and supported by a lot of photographs and newspaper clippings, this book will fill a gap in, I’m guessing, the knowledge of many. By the end of WWII, 6,520 black women served in the US Army. This book tells some of their stories.
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-women and all-black group, was the only unit of black women allowed to serve overseas during WWII. These women sorted and redirected mail, an enormous undertaking given the amount of mail from home (often addressed with just the soldier’s first name, with no other identifying info) that had built up while soldiers were on the move. They know that no mail meant low morale for the soldiers, so their job was a vital one. Readers get some background on what the Jim Crow era was like in the South, with black people treated as second class citizens. When women began to be recruited for noncombat positions to free up men to fight, many thought there was no way they could handle it—many thought that women didn’t belong in the military and were really only fit to be housewives. This discrimination and doubt was doubly apparent when it came to accepting black women as part of the military. The women who enlisted, including Major Charity Adams, a former teacher (and one of only two black women to obtain the rank of Major in WWII), saw it as an opportunity. They went into the military expecting to face less segregation and discrimination, but found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that was not the case. Black women and white women were kept apart at the training center, a place where many of the black women expected to work as one corps, not two. Barriers did break down over time, in some ways, but the military was still a reflection of the world at large at the time.
Though skilled, capable, and qualified, the black women found themselves being eliminated from certain opportunities and given the run around to keep them from applying. It was mainly white women who were allowed to go on for training for specialist positions while most black women were barred from any additional training. Often, black women were assigned menial labor tasks, especially in the South, where they were told that “Negroes know their place.” When some of the women refused, citing discrimination, they were threatened with court martial and jail time. In general, the black women throughout the various training camps and bases faced threats, verbal abuse, KKK intimidation, physical attacks, and police violence. In 1945, when they were overseas, they were welcomed in Birmingham and treated well. Free of the Jim Crow rules and racist attitudes of the US, they were treated with respect and welcomed into people’s homes. But, of course, attitudes within their own military didn’t magically transform, and the women of the 6888th continued to face scrutiny. In the fall of 1945, many black women reached the end of their tours of duty, returning home to the US to discrimination. Black soldiers weren’t given the hero’s welcome that white soldiers were. For the most part, they were just given their discharge papers and sent on their way. The final chapter reflects on what the women got out of their time in the military.
An author’s note looks at the continued racism and segregation in the US after WWII as well as military service by black men and women in the wars since then. A glossary, time line, notes on sources, and a select bibliography round out the text. Finished copies will include a forward by a black retired Major General.
This thorough look at the role black women played during WWII is an excellent addition to all collections. Well-written and incredibly engaging, with ample quotes from women involved in the 6888th and so many pictures, this book is highly recommended.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
Publication date: 01/08/2019
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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