Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII by Mary Cronk Farrell

Publisher’s description

standingStanding 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.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

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

ISBN-13: 9781419731600
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 01/08/2019

How History (and Librarians) Inspire Freedom of the Press, a guest post by Mary Cronk Farrell

standingWhen I got my first real job as a broadcast journalist at age 21, I believed my work would contribute to the common good. I believed the stories I reported, first as a radio journalist and later in television news, would help people understand events in our local community more clearly, feel more empathy and maybe open their minds or change their hearts.

 

Was I too idealistic? Was believing that the news media played a crucial role, not just in preserving democracy, but also as a force for good in our lives nothing but a fanciful notion of a naïve do-gooder?

 

It certainly seems so today.

 

But in researching the stories of black women who risked their lives to serve their county in a segregated army during World War II, I discovered evidence of how a free press pushed our nation to progress toward equality, how newspaper stories about injustice inspired people to empathy, and how the press rallied citizens to demand fairness.

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

Ranks of the all-black #6888th Postal Battalion of Women’s Army Corps, 1945. (National Archives)

In the spring of 1945, black members of the Women’s Army Corps stationed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, had withstood all they could stand. Day after day they donned blue work uniforms and reported to Lowell Army hospital to wash dishes and scrub floors. White WACs at the same hospital wore white uniforms for jobs as lab technicians, nurse’s aides and assisting wounded soldiers write letters home.

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Major Charity Adams inspects Women’s Army Corps ranks, February 1945. (National Archives)

Throughout World War II, complaints arose, and inspections verified that black WACs were too often assigned to menial jobs not prescribed for WACs. One inspection at Fort Breckinridge, Kentucky, found thirty black WACs working in the laundry, fifteen assigned to service jobs, including dishwashing at the base club, and five “well-educated negro women…administration school graduates…employed sweeping warehouse floors.”* At Fort Knox, Kentucky, black WACs worked in the kitchen, a white officer saying, “Most of these girls are much better off now than they were in civilian life.”*

 

At Fort Devens, the black women tried to work through the system, sending their complaints of discrimination up the chain of command to no avail. Alice E. Young, 23, had finished one year of nursing school while working as a student nurse in a Washington, D.C. hospital. She’d joined the army due to promises she’d be trained as a nurses’ aide and worked at Lovell awaiting a space in the training program.

 

But one day the commander of the hospital Colonel Walter M. Crandall toured her ward and saw Alice taking a white soldier’s temperature. “No colored WACs,” he announced, would take temperatures in his hospital. “They are here to scrub and wash floors, wash dishes and do all the dirty work.”**

 

Alice was demoted to hospital orderly, her hopes of going to med tech school dashed. She cleaned the hospital hallways and kitchen, washed dishes, cooked and served food and took out the garbage. Sixty percent of the black WACs at Lovell had similar duties.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

Devens WACS Stage Sitdown, The Chicago Defender, March 24, 1945.

They decided to strike. According to the New York Times, 96 black WACs initially refused orders to go to work due to discriminatory assignments. After several days, most eventually went back to work under threat of court martial for insubordination, a death penalty offense in wartime.

 

But Alice and three others who walked away from their posts at the hospital did not return and were court martialed. “These women made this gesture of protest in hope that someday their descendants might enjoy fully the rights and liberties promised to Americans,”** their attorney said.

 

Major news sources like the New York Times and Time Magazine covered the strike and the women’s trial, as well as small town newspapers like the Daily Sun in Lewiston, Maine, and African American newspapers across the country. When the army court convicted the four women and sentenced them to one year of hard labor with no pay and dishonorable discharge, the story received wide coverage.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Army Court Convicts 4 WACs of Disobeying Superior, The Washington Post, March 21, 1945.

Many Americans both white and black read about the unfairness the striking women had faced. They protested the harsh penalty by writing letters to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Secretary of War, Congress and editors of newspapers. Many called for punishment of Colonial Crandall, rather than the women.

 

The news stories and subsequent uproar by citizens made a difference. The War Department found a way to reverse the verdict on a technicality and reinstate Alice and the others to active duty. The Army did not investigate Colonel Crandall’s behavior, but he was relieved of his hospital command and pressured to retire. In addition, the army changed policies at Lovell Hospital prohibiting black WACs from being assigned to menial jobs not done by white WACs.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

Headline, front page, The Afro American, Baltimore, MD, April 28, 1945.

The pervasiveness of our news media today allows us to be even better informed than Americans during WWII, but it requires diligence and critical thinking due to the massive amounts of information at our fingertips, and the phenomenon of “fake news.”   Reporters Without Borders, an organization that tracks freedom of information, ranks the United States 45th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index. We fall below a host of European countries and others around the world including Ghana, South Korea, Uruguay and South Africa.

 

With the news media’s ever-increasing focus on the sensational and the obvious partisanship of news outlets, I’ve become more jaded and I don’t regret I’ve left the business. But librarians inspire me to keep faith with my ideals. They’re on the front lines championing freedom of information and teaching students critical skills to assess the news they see. They inspire us all to work within our own spheres of influence to defend our freedom of the press which is critical to democracy and a powerful force for truth and justice.

 

* When the Nation was in Need: Blacks in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, by Martha S. Putney (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001)

**United States V. Morrison, Anna G, A., Green, Mary, E., Young Alice E., Murphy, Johnnie, A. (Proceedings of a General Court-Martial, Fort Devens, M.A., March 19, 1945)

 

Meet Mary Cronk Farrell

Mary Cronk Farrell 2015. (534x640)Mary Cronk Farrell, author of critically acclaimed and award-winning Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific, now releases the incredible story of how black women in the army helped change the course of World War II:  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII (Abrams, January 2019).

 

Connect with Mary online: 

Website: www.MaryCronkFarrell.com

Blog: http://www.marycronkfarrell.net/blog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Author-Mary-Cronk-Farrell-180125525368386/

Twitter: @MaryCronkFarrel

Instagram:  MaryCronkFarrell

 

About  Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII

standingStanding 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.

(ISBN-13: 9781419731600 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 01/08/2019)

SEE AMANDA’S REVIEW HERE

 

What I Learned About “Representation Matters” While Reading BENEATH WANDERING STARS by Ashlee Cowles

beneath wandering starsBy the time I graduated high school, I had attended 9 separate schools in three different states. Every time I would start a new school the first question everyone asks, after what’s your name, is “where are you from?” I have no good answer to this question. I am from nowhere and everywhere.

I am what they call a “military brat”.

My father was in the Air Force and long after they divorced and he retired, my mom continued to work for AAFES. I understand if you don’t know what that means. While other kids bought their school supplies at KMart or wherever, I bought mine at the BX (base exchange). And we bought our groceries at the commissary. Although I only ever briefly lived on a base, usually for transitional housing, my life was often radically different then the kids I went to school with. We spoke in my house in terms and abbreviations that my friends never fully understood.

And you always entered into each new school year with the realization that you were a stranger in a land full of people who had spent their lives building bonds that you could never hope to have. When I graduated high school I had only been at that school for 2 years. For the few brief years of my Freshman and Sophmore year I had a glimpse into the epic lifestyle known as best friends. But one of my trio died in a car crash our junior year, shortly after I moved again, and the second part of that trio died on January 1st of this year. That was the closest I ever came to traditions and rituals and stories to share about high school besties because there was always another move.

Which brings me to Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles.

Gabriela Santiago is a military brat/kid. When we first meet her, she is stationed with her family on a base in Germany (my parents were stationed in Germany as well). Her brother has recently enlisted and is now serving in Afghanistan. They soon learn that Lucas has been seriously injured and he has requested that she and her father go on a hiking journey in his honor and conquer the Camino de Santiago. What follows is a moving tale of self discovery and forgiveness and relationship in the great tradition of quest novels. This book would actually be a great companion piece with The Way Back from Broken by Amber Keyser in the way that it combines rugged outdoor activity and peril with healing journeys. I recommend both.

When I began reading this book, I was immediately struck by Gabi’s story of life in the military. It wasn’t a vague reference to military life, Gabi actually mentions going to the BX, AAFES, and more. She talks very openly about the frequent moves and the emotional impact. She talks about the expectations of military kids. And she does so in ways that were moving and felt incredibly accurate to me. This is only the second time I have really read a book that addressed the life of being a military kid in such authentic ways. The first was If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth.

Reading this book and seeing my struggles as a military kid – I can not begin to tell you how much it meant to me. I’m not going to say that I cried, but I’m not going to say that I didn’t. I have always struggled with a lot of the emotions that Gabi expresses. Today as an adult I continue to struggle with the lack of what most people call ties or a sense of home. When I go visit either of my parents, there are no rooms full of childhood memories because they are not the rooms that I slept in.

The way that I related to this book and the way that it spoke to my soul really got me thinking about representation. As a white woman, I have never really lacked to see myself in a book. I am not underrepresented in YA literature. There are 1,000s of Hermiones and Bellas and whoever else you can think of. I can pick up almost any book in my YA collection and read about girls that look like me.

But Gabi is different. She spoke to a part of me that always seemed so different and misunderstood – being a military kid. This is not surprising as the author bio states that Cowles herself was an Army “brat”. She gets it. She was able to tap into her experience in a way that speaks of authenticity to military life, which is another affirmation and helped me gain a better understanding of the importance of “own voices”. In this case were not talking about ethnicity or disability, but about unique life experiences. And trust me, military life is a unique life experience that is under represented in YA literature and media as a whole. As we talk about “supporting our troops”, we fail to fully grasp not only what we are asking our military to do, but the unique burdens that we put on their families as well.

It’s interesting to note that Gabi is not white, she is Latinx, but as a white reader I still had no problems relating to her. Her Latin culture is very important to her story and it was something that I enjoyed learning about, but her story of what it is like to be a military kid spoke the universal about military life. This book was, for me, both a mirror and a window. I can not tell you how powerful that was to me to read things about how military life haunted me in the story of Gabi, further reminding me of the importance of representation for all of our teens.

I needed this book when I was in high school and dealing with yet another two moves. I didn’t know I needed it until I read it, but what a difference this would have made for teenage Karen. I needed to hear someone else say AAFES and talk about shopping at the BX and eating at the food court with some really unique and weird food places that didn’t seem to exist off base.

And our teens . . . they need to see themselves in the books that they read. They need to have a voice. They need to know that there are people like them who experience and think about the same things that they do. This book further solidified for me a deeper understanding of the call for more diversity and inclusion in YA literature.

Representation matters.

Publisher’s Book Description

After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother’s best friend–a boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An up-close look at the lives of the children of military families, “Beneath Wandering Stars” takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds. (August 2016 from Merit Press)

Book Giveaway

Leave a comment by Friday, September 2nd for your chance to win a hardback copy of this book. Open to US only please. Be sure and leave some type of trackback, like a Twitter handle or email, so I can get in touch with you. I’ll put the names into a hat and do a random drawing.