WACs Beaten in Elizabethtown, KY
In 1945, three African American members of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) were beaten by police officers for sitting in the waiting room for whites at the Greyhound bus station in Elizabethtown, KY. The three WACs were with the 1550th Service Command Unit, WAC Section II. One of the women, PFC Helen Smith of Syracuse, NY, was taken to jail bleeding from her injuries; she was released a few hours later to the military police. PFC Georgia Boston from Texas and Pvt. Tommie Smith from Lexington, KY were also beaten. Helen Smith spent a week in the hospital recovering from her injuries.
The women continued on their return to Fort Knox. When they arrived on base, they were summoned by the commanding officer, Colonel Throckmorton, and lectured about obeying the supposed segregation laws of Kentucky pertaining to public buildings and transportation. The women were then court-martialed. They were defended by Lieutenant W. Robert Ming, base legal officer at Godman Field under Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. The charges were later reduced to disorderly conduct.
The Baxter General Hospital Veterans Committee for Equal Rights petitioned the Secretary of War to investigate the brutal beating of three Negro WACs in Elizabethtown. Elizabethtown attorney D. M. Cooper said that Elizabethtown city officials would welcome an investigation by the War Department. "Evidence introduced at the time indicated the three Negro WACs objected when city policeman Robert Irwin ordered them to leave a white waiting room in an Elizabethtown bus station."
During the court martial in July 1945, the three women were found innocent of all charges. The Louisville NAACP Branch wanted to take action against policeman Robert Irwin and Lucian Gaddie for the beating of the women. Lucian Gaddie was a civilian police officer of Elizabethtown who had also participated in the attack on the women.
For more see Harry McAlpin, "Beat by cops: WACs to stand trial, violated Ky. Jim Crow," Indianapolis Recorder, 8/4/1945, p. 1; "Wac's Beating Case" in The Negro Handbook, 1946-1947, edited by F. Murray; Creating GI Jane, by L. D. Meyer; To Serve My County, To Serve My Race, by B. L. Moore; "Council demands investigation of WACs' beating," Baltimore Afro-American, 8/11/1945, p. 12; quotations from "Probe of beating of 3 Negro WACs is sought," The Owensboro Messenger, 9/1/1945, p. 2; "Knox court-martial frees Negro WACs," Sunday Herald-Leader, 7/29/1945, p. 25; "Courtmartial frees WACs; NAACP in action against cop," The New York Age, 8/11/1945, p. 2; and "Army should act," The New York Age, 8/18/1945.