How were black females serving in the American military treated, from the Revolution to World War II?
That was the topic of a presentation on Sunday, March 10, that Marvis Baker Pitts and the ladies of Beulah Baptist Church in Rixeyville delivered at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Culpeper County.
More than 100 people attended to learn some history and honor African-American women in the U.S. armed services.
Pitts, the first lady of Beulah Baptist, and the other presenters described how black women steadfastly pursued their right to serve in the military, even while facing race and gender discrimination.
Pitts, who retired as an Air Force master sergeant, said she witnessed black women being treated unfairly over the braiding of their hair.
“We are sitting here today due to our sisters in the military who have gone before us and broken that glass ceiling,” Pitts told the audience.
During Sunday’s commemoration, the Beulah ladies describe how, during the Civil War, black women provided nursing and did domestic chores in medical settings, cooked and washed laundry for Union soldiers. Some of them were paid by the Union army to raise cotton on plantations for the U.S. government to sell, they said.
After World War II, racial and gender discrimination persisted in the U.S. military. Between 1946 and 1947, entry quotas and segregation in the Women’s Army Corps deterred many women from serving.
On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman eliminated segregation, quotas and discrimination in the nation’s armed forces by signing Executive Order 9981. After that, black women took their respectfully places in the military.
Sunday’s commemoration included a “Say My Name” segment in which presenters recognized some of the black-women role models who became the “first” in various ranks and duties.
In 1970, Margaret E. Bailey became the first black female promoted to colonel in the Army.
In 1972, Mildred C. Kelly became the first black female sergeant major in the Army.
In 1979, Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown became the military’s first black female general officer and the first black chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1995, Air Force Brig. Gen. Marcelite Harris became the first black woman to attain this rank.
In 1997, Army Sgt. Danyell Wilson became the first black woman to earn the prestigious job of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1993, while in the military, Pitts was recognized as the Air Combat Command’s Supply Professional and the 9th Air Force’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
On Sunday, Pitts recognized Harriet Tubman in a special tribute. Tubman, who escaped slavery, served as a Union nurse, spy and raid leader during the Civil War.
Beulah Baptist Church’s mass choir rendered the music, and attendees acknowledged the Rev. Dwayne Robinson, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, and the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Pitts, pastor of Beulah Baptist Church of Rixeyville.
At the close of the ceremony, Marvis Pitts rose and saluted all the women of the U.S. military. The congregation gave the Beulah ladies a standing ovation.
Attendees said they were impressed by the knowledge they received from the well-organized and thoughtful presentation.