Last updated: August 9, 2022
Charity Adams was born on December 5, 1918, in Kittrell, North Carolina. She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the oldest of four children. Her parents believed strongly in a good education. Adams graduated valedictorian of her high school at the age of 16 in 1934 with perfect school attendance. She won many scholarships to colleges and chose to attend Wilberforce University in Ohio.
Founded in 1856, Wilberforce University was named for the great 18th-century abolitionist, William Wilberforce. It is the nation’s oldest private, historically Black university owned and operated by African Americans. Throughout its 163-year history, Wilberforce University has demonstrated a formidable spirit of resilience and triumph and has never wavered from its sacred duty to educate and enrich its students.
Adams graduated from Wilberforce in 1938. She majored in physics, mathematics, and Latin with a minor in history. After graduating, she returned to South Carolina to teach. She taught junior high school math and science from 1938 to 1942. During her summer breaks, she attended graduate school at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
After entering World War II, the United States moved to expand its military capacity. In the spring of 1942, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), later known as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was formed. Adams was accepted into the WAAC in July 1942. She was a member of the first African American Officer Candidate School at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She graduated first in her class and was commissioned a second lieutenant on August 29, 1942. Upon commissioning, Adams was the first African American woman to be an officer in the WAAC. She remained at Fort Des Moines until 1944, holding numerous positions including staff training officer, station control officer, and company commander. During that time, she was promoted to major. This promotion made her the highest-ranking female officer at the training center.
On July 3, 1943, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) was renamed the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). All the women who were in the WAAC were given the opportunity to transfer to the WAC or return to civilian life. A majority of WAACs, including Charity Adams, chose to transfer to the WAC. About 25 percent decided to return to civilian life.
At the end of 1944, Adams was chosen to command the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. The 6888th, known as the Six Triple Eight, was the only African American WAC unit to go overseas during the war. Their mission was to sort, organize, and direct mail to U.S. servicemen.
On February 3, 1945, the first group of women from the 6888th sailed to Great Britain. The voyage took 11 days, during which they survived close encounters with Nazi U-Boats. They arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, on February 14, 1945. The 6888th was then stationed in Birmingham, England, where they discovered warehouses full of undelivered mail. The unit worked in three shifts around the clock seven days a week to clear the backlog. They adopted the phrase, “No Mail, Low Morale”—mail was the only connection the men fighting on the front lines had with friends and family back home. Before the 6888th, mail delivery was intermittent at best. The morale of the soldiers was waning because they had no connections outside the military.
The women developed a new system of organizing and tracking mail. The system required tracking individual servicemembers by maintaining about seven million information cards. The cards included serial numbers to distinguish different individuals with the same name. They also tried to deliver mail with insufficient information through this system. The hardest part for the unit was returning mail when it was addressed to a servicemember who died. Yet, thanks to their system, they were able to process approximately 195,000 pieces of mail per day. The U.S. Army thought it would take the 6888th six months to clear the mail backlog in Birmingham. The 6888th cleared the back log in three months.
On June 9, 1945, Adams and the rest of the 6888th were transferred to Rouen, France. They were there to clear another mail backlog. In France, the Six Triple Eight worked alongside French civilians and German prisoners of war. On December 26, 1945, Adams was promoted to lieutenant colonel, the highest rank within the WAC.
In February 1946 most members of the Six Triple Eight were discharged from the WAC at Fort Dix in New Jersey. A month later, Adams was honorably discharged from the Women’s Auxiliary Corps. After her discharge, she picked back up where she left off in her studies at Ohio State. She graduated with a master’s degree in psychology in 1946. She then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked with the Veterans Administration as a register officer. She reviewed veterans’ applications for educational funding under the G.I. Bill. She subsequently worked at various colleges in a number of academic roles.
On August 24, 1949, Charity Adams married Stanley A. Earley, Jr. The couple met while attending Wilberforce University together. They moved to Zurich, Switzerland, while Earley completed his medical training. They returned to the United States in 1952 and settled in Dayton, Ohio.
Charity Earley devoted much of her post-Army life to her family and community. She served on the board of directors of Dayton Power and Light, the Dayton Metro Housing Authority, and the Dayton Opera Company; the board of governors of the American Red Cross; and the board of trustees of Sinclair Community College. She volunteered for the United Way, the United Negro College Fund, the Urban League, and the YWCA. She was the founder of the Black Leadership Development Program (BLDP) in Dayton in 1982, which provides community leadership training for African Americans.
Charity Adams Earley died on January 13, 2002, at the age of 83 in Dayton. She was buried in Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Section 308, Lot 326, Grave B.
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