African-American Women in the Military

What role did the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps play in bringing black women into the military?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act that created the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) on May 14, 1942, which made it possible for more African-American women to serve in the military than previously. The volunteer unit consisted of both black and white recruits. Charity Adams Earley (1918–2002) completed basic training in the WAAC that year, and two weeks later became the first black woman commissioned in that organization. When she retired from the Corps, after the end of World War II, she was the highest-ranking black officer in the service. Earley grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the daughter of a Methodist minister and a former schoolteacher. The influence of segregation was apparent in Columbia, and Earley went on to become a vigorous opponent of racial segregation. She worked her way through Wilberforce University and graduated in 1938. She taught mathematics in Columbia, until she was influenced by the recruitment efforts of Mary McLeod Bethune to enlist in the WAAC. Bethune, a noted educator and influential leader, served as an assistant to the secretary of war and was the black representative on the Advisory Council to the Women’s Interests Section, a group organized by the War Department in 1941 to attract women to the armed services. Commissioned as a lieutenant, Earley was named company commander of the women’s Basic Training Company on her post. She faced several problems as she sought to expand opportunities for blacks in the WAAC. The organization became known as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) when “Auxiliary” was dropped from the unit’s name. The name change, made under the guidance of WAAC director Oveta Culp Hobby, was designed to make the unit a direct branch of the military and attract more women with better educational backgrounds. By 1943 Earley was a major, and she was proposed to head a special Negro training regiment. She refused this position and the segregated unit was never formed. In 1944 she became the first black WAC given overseas duty and commanded a unit in Birmingham, England. She was made a lieutenant colonel in December 1945. When Earley left the army, she resumed graduate studies in psychology at The Ohio State University. She was recognized as a highly effective administrator during her period of military service. She died in her hometown on January 13, 2002.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy African American History Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App