Telling Her Story: Black Women in Military Fill Gaps in History
Black Americans in the Military: Did You Know These Facts?11/10/2021
America’s Top Black Veteran: First Black Secretary of Defense Works Quietly11/10/2021
By KENNAE HUNTER
When most people reflect on past wars such as World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Civil War and the American Revolution, there is a lot of focus on the men who served. And the majority of those men in history and textbooks are often white.
The forgotten part of the story that many people do not know is the role of African-American women who actively served in the military.
The National Association of Black Military Women (NABMW) was established to honor and celebrate the African-American women who have served in the armed forces. The first meeting was hosted in 1976 with 21 ladies at the home of Lucille Brown in Hampton, Va. to recognize each other for their service. Later, they transitioned into a formal organization rather than one of social gatherings to take on the responsibility to ensure the Black population is recognized for their service.
The goal is to tell “HERstory”, from the female perspective, which is a play on words using “history” and discusses the background usually through the male perspective. These female veterans went through many trials and tribulations to get their story out about their contributions to the U.S. Military. Their motto is “to tell HERstory… and tell it, we will.” There is a lot of history in this organization with members ranging from WWII veterans to currently serving military women.
Before being recognized as NABMW in 1997, it was formerly known as The Black Women Army Auxiliary Corps, The Black Women Army Corps, and Women in Service. Now, NABMW serves all branches of the military including the Coast Guard.
There are four active chapters located in Atlanta, Brooklyn, New York City, and the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia area. The first reunion was held in Dallas, Texas in 1978. Since then, biennial reunions have been hosted in major cities around the country with one approaching in 2022.
“I attended my first (reunion) in 1994,” Colonel (retired) and NABMW treasurer Kathaleen F. Harris said. “I was stationed at the Pentagon then and I was a Senior Major. So, four of us went down to San Antonio, Texas to a Black Women’s Army Corps (WAC) reunion and when we got there, we met all these ladies that were World War II vets. I told folks I served 22 years and did not know that Black women served in World War II. I didn’t know they served in the Korean War. I never saw one.“
“One thing we talked about when we were talking to the (lady WWII vete”ans), they came to me and said nobody knows us, who we are,” Harris said. “I said you’re right, I’m right there in the Pentagon and I don’t know who you are, never seen you in my life, never heard of you. They wanted us to help. It was a wonderful experience. It was wonderful to listen to those ladies and their stories.”
To join NABWM, register on the website. Members are informed about events for military women and given assistance with attending. Also, they are informed about benefits to which they are entitled and are given the resources necessary to obtain them. NABMW offers guidance to those who are trying to navigate their military careers.
Although NABMW is not a service- based organization, many of the members participate in giving back to the community. The Atlanta chapter services the Clayton County community often through JROTC mentorship to the students, reading to elementary and middle schoolers, and volunteering in assisted-living facilities where there are military veterans. There are monthly chapter meetings held at the Atlanta chapter headquarters in Morrow, Ga. every third Sunday at 3 p.m.
The Original 21 Ladies of NABMW
(list of names courtesy to NABMW national website)
- Lucille Brown, Hampton, VA
- Jetta M. Flagg, Jamaica, NY
- Mildred C. Kelly
- Catherine L. Bowey, Dallas, TX
- Emma Detresse, St. Albans, NY
- Frances Sherman Burnes, Jamaica, NY
- Mamie B. Riley, Ocean Springs, MO
- Novella Auls, Shadyside, MD
- Thelma Cole-Reid, Centereach Long Island, NY
- Bernice Greene, Silver Springs, MD
- Doris Richardson, Westbury Long Island, NY
- Dorothy Bartlett, Detroit, MI
- Ruth R. Mercer, Norfolk, VA
- Rose E. Thomson, Hampton, VA
- Gladys C. Toliver, Camden, NJ
- Agnes H. Washington, Lindenwood, NJ