Charity Adams Earley

Charity Adams Earley

1918-2002

Commanding officer of the first unit of WAC African Americans to go overseas. Her unit was the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. 

By Dr. Kelly A. Spring | 2017

Educator, soldier, and psychologist, Charity Adams Earley paved the way for African American women in the military, in education, and in her community. Her most prominent role was leading the first African American women unit of the army on a tour of duty overseas during World War II.

Charity Adams Earley was born on December 5, 1918 in Kittrell, North Carolina. She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. Her father, a minister, and her mother, a former teacher, were well educated and sought to instill in their children a love of books and learning. Earley was intellectually gifted, and began elementary school as a second grader. During her last year in elementary school, she, along with other students in her class were tested for early advancement to high school. Earley and twelve others passed the test for high school. However, her parents did not allow her to move up early, because she has already several grades ahead of her peers. She graduated valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School. Graduating top of her class enabled her to gain a scholarship, so that she could attend Wilburforce University in Ohio, one of the best African American higher educational institutions at the time.

While at university, Earley majored in mathematics, Latin, and physics, while she minored in history. She was also very active in school groups, participating in the university’s branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Women’s Self-Government Association, and the Greek sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. She graduated from Wilberforce University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1938.

Towards the end of her studies at Wilburforce University, Earley also took courses in education, so that she could teach after completing her degree. From 1938 until 1942, she taught math and science in a junior high school in Columbia, South Carolina. In the summers, when she was not teaching, she took graduate courses at Ohio State University, later declaring her major as vocational psychology.

In 1942, the United States was expanding its military forces as it went to war with Germany and Japan. As part of this effort, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), later known as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), was created in the spring of 1942. Hearing about the formation of the WAAC, Earley decided to apply for a place in the organization. She was accepted in July of that year and travelled to Iowa to begin training at Fort Des Moines as a member of the first officer candidate school. She completed training and was commissioned on August 29, 1942. Earley remained at the training center in Fort Des Moines until 1944. During that time she worked as a staff training officer, a station control officer, and a company commander.  In September 1943, she was promoted to major, making her the highest ranking female officer at the training center.

At the end of 1944, Earley was chosen to be the commanding officer of the first unit of WAC African Americans to go overseas. Her unit was the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Their mission was to organize and direct mail to U.S. servicemen which had gone undelivered. The battalion was faced with air hangers full of undelivered post, which needed to be sorted and redirected. Earley’s unit began working in Birmingham, England. The women worked around the clock in three shifts, for eight hours per shift, seven days a week. They were tasked with clearing all the backlogged mail in six months, but they were able to accomplish their goal in three months. Next they moved to postal facilities in Rouen and Paris, France, again organizing mail which had gone undelivered. Earley estimated that the unit handled approximately 65,000 pieces of post per day.

This article appears in its entirety at WomenHistory.org website. It can be read here.

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