On February 3, 1945, the United States Army sent 800 Black women overseas to England aboard the SS Ile de France. Their mission was unknown to them. Eleven days later, after dodging German U-boats, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion “Six Triple Eight” landed in Glasgow, Scotland. Their commander, Major Charity Adams, and the rest of her command staff anxiously waited for them.
As I was learning about this historic battalion, one particular thing stood out to me: Black women have always advocated for each other. We want our magic to be included in the numbers and will speak the name of a good sis in rooms we find ourselves in. This is exactly what Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune did.
Several years before those 800 Black women went overseas, Dr. Bethune, advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, advocated with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to find meaningful roles for Black women in the war. Her concern was that the war was coming to an end and Black women would be left out of it. As an educator, Bethune had traveled to colleges and universities in the United States and knew where the best-qualified Black women were. One of those women was Adams, who was already serving in the Women’s Army Corp (WAC) at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Other Black women had joined the WAC, and by the war’s end, over 6,000 were in uniform.
In the summer of 1944, Major Adams and other Black WACs had received their orders to train at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, at a center that provided training for service overseas. Their preparation included gas mask drills, obstacle courses, classroom training, clothes-packing exercises, physical exams, and other drills. Of course, the women performed well despite the ever-present racism they faced. By December of that same year, the women were trained and received orders for England. The mission, however, was still secret.
On February 14, 1945, the Six Triple Eight arrived at their new home, at the King Edward School. The living conditions were terrible. They were taken to nearby warehouses and found bags of mail, packages, and boxes stacked to the ceiling. This was the secret mission. Over the next three months, the Six Triple Eight perfected their processes by setting up three eight-hour shifts, seven days a week. Every morning, the trucks would come in loaded with mail and packages, and they would sort them. At peak efficiency, they processed over 65,000 pieces of mail per shift for delivery. By the war’s end, this added up to 17 million pieces of mail.
When not on duty, the women ventured into the city. The citizens of Birmingham, England, were curious about these Black women soldiers. They soon realized they could go anywhere they wanted — dancing, bowling, and eating at local restaurants. On Sunday evenings, the women were invited into local homes for a Sunday dinner.
Major Adams dealt with significant racially motivated leadership challenges, as many Black women can identify with as they navigate through the ranks of today’s military or even in the corporate space. It’s a constant reminder that even though much has changed, we still have far to go.
As an Army veteran, I recall feeling the constant need to prove myself. There were many times I was the only Black person or the only woman in a particular situation. There were times when I didn’t have a shoulder to lean on. However, there were times when Black women would find each other, rally together, and support one another. Advancing through the ranks can be discouraging, but we focused on doing our jobs and doing them well.
The Six Triple Eight was a self-sufficient unit; they had their own medics, dining hall, military police (who were not armed but were trained in jujitsu), transportation, and administrative and support services. Army leadership estimated that it would take at least six months and closer to a year to get the backlog of mail taken care of. The Six Triple Eight did it in three months.
Tyler Perry is bringing the story of the Six Triple Eight to Netflix. Written, directed, and produced by Perry, the film will star Oprah Winfrey, Sam Waterston, Susan Sarandon, and Kerry Washington, who will also serve as executive producer. Netflix officially announced the movie in December. Production of the film began in January 2023.
Sometimes, as Black women, we may struggle with finding our voice and shaping our stories. What we fail to realize is that we are creating roadmaps and speaking life into others by simply living. It never occurred to me that, as a young Black woman soldier in the Army, I was a student of and a witness to the way to be a storyteller. I had the beginnings of the seed to tell my own stories as well as continue the legacy of those who came before me.
Black women’s stories deserve to be validated. The story of the Six Triple Eight means so much to Black culture and military history. We are all planted now in this shared experience. It’s how we witness: learning of another opportunity to see Black women as greater and, further, as setting precedent.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.