Lt. Colonel Charity Adams Earley, a distinguished WAC commander

Herb Boyd | 9/17/2020, midnight
When the man in the Oval Office impugned the war dead, calling them “suckers” and “losers,” it’s easy to recall ...
Major Charity Adams drilling her company at the first W.A.A.C. training center in Fort Des Moines, Iowa in 1943 Photo courtesy of The National Archives

When the man in the Oval Office impugned the war dead, calling them “suckers” and “losers,” it’s easy to recall the countless number of brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in the fight against an enemy. Usually, these moments are devoted to the courageous men with only an occasional nod to the women in the military, particularly during World War I and II.

This week’s salute and praise we extend to Lt. Colonel Charity Adams Earley, the first African American commanding officer in the Women’s Army Corps deployed overseas during a war. Charity was born December 5, 1918 in Kittrell, North Carolina and grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. Her father was a minister and her mother a teacher, both of whom instilled her with a passion for learning.

Charity, almost from her first contact with education, expressed an advanced intelligence, and while a student in elementary school she met the requirements to attend high school. But her parents blocked this move since, in their estimation, she was already several grades ahead of her peers. As expected, she was valedictorian of her graduating class from Booker T. Washington High School, earning a scholarship to attend Wilberforce University in Ohio.

At Wilberforce, Charity majored in mathematics, Latin and physics with a minor in history. She was also exceedingly active in extracurricular groups, including the college’s branch of the NAACP; the Women’s Self-Government Association, and the Greek Sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. In 1938, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

In addition to her undergraduate studies she took classes in education that would allow her to teach upon completion of her degree. She taught math and science at a junior high school in Columbia four for years, from 1938 to 1942. During the summer when she wasn’t teaching she took graduate courses at Ohio State University that led to a degree in vocational psychology.

Meanwhile, the globe was heating up with military activity as World War II spread to the U.S. In the spring of 1942, anticipating a needed defense against invasion, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was formed. Charity heard about this development and applied immediately. She was accepted in the summer of 1942 and was dispatched to Iowa to begin training at Fort Des Moines to officer candidacy school. By August of that year she had successfully completed training and acquired the commission. For the next two years she worked as a staff training officer, a station control officer and a company commander. She was promoted to major in the fall of 1943, making her the highest ranking female officer at the training center. More than 800 women were under her command.

Given her leadership skills, she was chosen to be the commanding officer of the first unit of WAC African Americans to be deployed overseas. Her unit was the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. When it was discovered that too much of the mail was undelivered to the troops, Charity and crew were assigned to correct this oversight. It was a formidable task with hangers of undelivered mail that needed sorting and to be redirected. This activity began in Birmingham, England with the women working around the clock in three shifts, eight-hours per shift, seven days a week to get the mail delivered to the troops.