Military groundbreaker grew up in strong Columbia family

jholleman@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2013 

Charity Adams, WAAC Captain. National Archives

  • Charity Adams Earley Want to know more about this groundbreaking African-American woman? Got time for a book? “One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC,” by Charity Adams Earley Quicker read: Go online to http://www.usca.edu/aasc/earley.htm. The profile of Earley is one of several in an African-American heritage index put together by USC Aiken. Historical video: There’s a short clip of her marching with her troops here; look for a link with this story at thestate.com Black History Month events, Page A8

The image is simple and, in historical context, stunning.

Proud and confident, Capt. Charity Adams marches at the fore of a battalion of black women in the uniforms of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943 at a military training base in Des Moines, Iowa.

The photo doesn’t match the assumptions of that era regarding race, gender, the military and the South.

But if you focus on that strong woman at the front of the battalion, the photo is easier to understand. Amazing achievement was expected in the Adams household in Columbia.

Charity Edna Adams was the daughter of Rev. Eugene Avery Adams and Charity Nash Adams. Her father was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church, founder of Victory Savings Bank and president of the local branch of the NAACP. Her mother had been a teacher before starting their family.

Their parenting formula stressed discipline, education and free-flowing discussion, according to another of their children, John Hurst Adams.

“They were disciplinarians,” said Adams, a senior bishop with the AME church who lives in the Atlanta area. “They did not let you push the envelope but so far. And then they would stop you and explain to you the long-term consequences of what you were doing.”

In her book on her military exploits (“One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC”), Charity Adams devoted one chapter to her childhood in Columbia. Her memories were mostly upbeat, though the racial problems of the day weren’t ignored.

“From the second-story perch of our downtown parsonage my brother and I, seated in our father’s lap, watched one of the largest Ku Klux Klan parades ever held,” she wrote.

She also mentioned that she and her brother Avery played with the children of a family of Greek immigrant neighbors – until they started segregated schools and never played together again.

She also mentioned her parents’ emphasis on discipline and education. In fact, when she and her siblings read books, their father sometimes would read the same books and quiz the children to make sure they were reading with comprehension. When Charity went off to college at Wilberforce University in Ohio, her mother would send back her letters with red ink marking corrections to her grammar and spelling.

Charity also recalled the simple instructions given by her father when she set off for college: “We have tried to teach you right from wrong. Just do right.”

The message must have worked. All four children went on to remarkable careers. Lucy Rose Adams earned a doctorate degree from Ohio State and was a business professor at several colleges before her death in 2007. E. Avery Adams Jr., like his father and brother, graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, and he went on to a long career as a foreign service officer in the U.S. Agency for International Development before dying in 2007.

While discipline and education are at the top of good-parenting suggestions, free-flowing discussion usually isn’t. That set the Adams household apart.

“Once we were old enough to talk back, they allowed us to question and debate,” John Hurst Adams said. As teens and young adults, they had long discussions with their parents on segregation, civil rights and other hot issues of the day.

Those no doubt served Charity well after she left a teaching position in Columbia in 1942 for the military. She quickly moved up in the hierarchy of the Women’s Army Corps, as it later became known. She didn’t back down when facing the discrimination common in those times. In fact, when she commanded the all-black 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, which took over postal operations in Europe when the male soldiers focused on combat, she led boycotts of segregated recreational facilities and living accommodations.

Her willingness to speak out didn’t hold her back. When she left the military in 1946, she was a lieutenant colonel, the highest ranking black female officer in the WACs.

She went on to work in several government and educational positions before marrying Stanley A. Earley Jr., a medical student.

The Earleys eventually settled in Dayton, Ohio, where they raised two children and Charity immersed herself in community service, directing fund-raising campaigns and serving on many corporate or educational boards. Charity Adams Earley was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame. She died at age 83 in 2002.

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