Two Women of Courage
Editor’s Note: March is Women’s History Month. Throughout March, contributors to Spirit of Abilene will pay tribute to Women of Influence.
By DANNY MINTON
The armed services still existed in segregation as the United States entered World War II. When I browse my dad’s battleship book, there is picture after picture of the different groups of sailors on the ship. It quickly becomes apparent that only white men adorn the pictures. Then later in the book, there are pictures of the black sailors. In the beginning, most of them served as “mess” attendants. The prejudiced society did not see black Americans as having the intelligence and ability for many military positions.
Surprisingly, change would largely come about in the military through the efforts of two women. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was the 15th of 17 children born to formerly enslaved parents. She was the first to be born free. She grew up picking cotton on land that her mother bought after freedom. Race made it difficult for her to get an education. Finally, she enrolled in a Presbyterian school and made plans to be a missionary. Again her race and gender became a hindrance. She even tried to go to South Africa but was not allowed entrance by the country for political reasons, with the country not accepting free black people to enter the country.
Dr. Bethune would move on to champion human rights regarding race and gender. The rewards and accomplishments would continue to grow. One area she began to challenge was the position of black Americans in the military. She worked tirelessly to get schools to allow black Americans to enter civilian pilot training programs. West Virginia State College became the first to offer a pilot training program for black Americans. In 1939 President Roosevelt expanded the pilot training program and opened the door for black colleges to provide military training. One of the major training programs took place in Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute would begin training black men to be pilots.
Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt
One of Dr. Bethune’s friends was Eleanor Roosevelt. She turned to the first lady to help with the military program. In March of 1941, Mrs. Roosevelt traveled to Tuskegee. Against the advice of her traveling companions, she requested that one of the black pilots take her for a ride in one of their planes. Chief Instructor Charles Anderson took her for an hour-long flight. After the flight, she wrote a letter to the president telling him that black pilots and mechanics were just as good and capable as any white soldier. The Tuskegee Airmen Squad was formed to escort bombers into enemy territory. The escort never lost a bomber during the war. The efforts begun by these two women would eventually continue when President Truman desegregated the military.
The courage and determination of these two women, one black and one white, demonstrate how the world can be a better place when people work together for a worthwhile cause. God has always used women to fulfill his plans. Their courage has often played a significant role in the life of God’s people. Today, women play a vital role in the life of the church. Attend any group, and you will find women serving the Lord in so many crucial ways for the Lord. God’s kingdom needs and uses all types of people regardless of race, gender, or age.
On July 13, 2022, Mary McLeod Bethune became the first African American represented with a state statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol.
Danny Minton is a former Elder and minister at Southern Hills Church of Christ
Thank you for reminding us of those whose struggles weighed far heavier than our own.