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WACs' Protest at Camp Breckinridge, KY
Start Year : 1943
In 1943, six African American members of the Women's Army Corps (WACs) resigned from the Army after their unit staged a protest over job assignments. The unit was under the command of 1st Lieutenant Myrtle Anderson and 2nd Lieutenant Margaret E. B. Jones. They were the first group of African American women enlistees to be stationed in Kentucky. They were a division of the first Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) that had been established at Fort Des Moines, Iowa in 1942; a total of 118 African American women were trained at the location. In 1943, the WAACs were being transitioned over to the WACs. The unit transferred to Kentucky had been trained to become supply clerks, but once stationed at Camp Breckinridge, they were assigned tasks such as stacking beds and scrubbing the floors of the warehouses and latrines. The women protested, and Anderson and Jones complained to their superior officer Colonel Kelly, but nothing was done. There was also the complaint that white soldiers had entered the women's barracks at night and officers had to protect them. As the tension continued to increase, the last straw came when the women were told to wash the walls of the laundry; the women went on strike. After five days, the Army responded by allowing the women to leave the service without honor. Those who resigned were Beatrice Brashear, Gladys Morton, Margaret Coleman, Mae E. Nicholas, and Viola Bessups, all from New York, and Ruth M. Jones from New Jersey. The Army's official response was that the "girls" had not been given a proper assignment and there was a disturbance. The Camp Breckinridge Public Relations Office acknowledged the resignations but had no additional comments. For more see "6 WACs Resign: WAC clerks decline to scrub floors," Philadelphia Afro American, 07/10/1943, pp. 1 & 15. For more about Camp Breckinridge, see the Camp Breckinridge entry in the Kentucky Encyclopedia, and History of Camp Breckinridge, by P. Heady.
By the final months of 1943, African American WACs were performing mail clerk duties at Camp Breckinridge, KY, as seen in photo image of Pfc. Ruby O'Brien from Beaumont, TX; Pvt. Millie Holloway from Louisville, KY; and others in photo dated November 30, 1943. Photo at NYPL Digital Gallery from U.S. Office of War Information.
Subjects: Activists, Civil Rights, Military & Veterans, Rioting, Insurrections, Panics, Protests in Kentucky, Women's Groups and Organizations, Women's Army Corps (WACs)
Geographic Region: Camp Breckinridge [or Fort Breckinridge], Henderson, Webster, and Union Counties, Kentucky (no longer exists) / Fort Des Moines [Fort Des Moines Museum], Des Moines, Iowa