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Documentary in Atlantic City to show Black women's World War II military contribution
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Documentary in Atlantic City to show Black women's World War II military contribution

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ATLANTIC CITY — Many Americans learned about the military contributions of African American males in World War II by watching the 1995 HBO television movie “The Tuskegee Airmen” or seeing the 2012 film “Red Tails.”

The African American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey Inc. branch here will put the spotlight on the overlooked contributions of African American women in the military during World War II by hosting a screening of the documentary “Sweet Georgia Brown” at 4 p.m. Friday.

The event will take place at the Noyes Arts Garage of Stockton University (2200 Fairmount Ave.). Lawrence E. Walker, an author and the movie’s director, will conduct a question-and-answer session about the film after the screening.

Walker was inspired to do research on his own about African Americans’ military contributions during World War II after watching “The Tuskegee Airmen” when it was first televised. Walker, who lived in New Jersey at the time, crossed paths with Qaaim Saalik, the former Robert R. Terry, who was a professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, Essex County.

Saalik told Walker his mother, Estelle Brock Terry, was a licensed pilot, mail clerk and packed parachutes at Tuskegee. Saalik’s father was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. It was Saalik who convinced Walker to spend more time researching the even more ignored contributions of African American women to the World War II military effort.

“We didn’t know we were important,” Walker said recalling what one of the Black female World War II veterans told him.

It took the intervention of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Roosevelt, and educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to allow African American women to serve in the military during World War II.

“The women’s involvement freed up the men to fight,” Walker said.

Walker’s film features Maj. Charity Adams Earley, commander of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion during the war. The documentary explores the stories of some of the first Black women to volunteer for military service during the war.

They served despite a 10% quota that limited the number of African Americans accepted into the services, and Jim Crow restrictions that kept platoons segregated from their white counterparts.

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Walker interviewed the African American World War II female veterans during the 1990s, when dozens of them were still alive. Most of the women who were interviewed for the documentary and his 2019 book, “Sweet Georgia Brown: Impact, Courage, Sacrifice, and Will” are now dead, Walker said.

There have been different versions of the documentary since the 1990s as Walker did more interviews. In Atlantic City this week, he will show 58 minutes of the 90-minute version of the film.

Ralph E. Hunter Sr., the museum’s founder and board of directors president, said the documentary would be more than suitable for the museum because Atlantic City played a major role in the war effort.

During World War II, the resort was converted into a training and recruitment base, known locally as Camp Boardwalk, according to the Atlantic City Free Public Library website.

Hotels previously full of tourists became barracks for soldiers, and Thomas M. England General Hospital was established in the world-famous Chalfonte-Haddon Hall and Traymore Hotels to care for wounded soldiers and amputees.

“I thought it would be great,” Hunter said of the documentary.

This is Walker’s second documentary focusing on African Americans during World War II. The first documentary, in 1997, was titled: “To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race,” based on a book by Brenda L. Moore, an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York in Buffalo.

Walker’s book and documentary was also informed by the paperback “One’s Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC” by Chariity Adams Earley. WAC is an acronym for Women’s Army Corps.

Walker has written a script and is interested in seeing a television series created about this subject.

Walker would like writer and producer Julie Dash, who directed the 1991 movie “Daughters of the Dust” and the 2002 TV movie “The Rosa Parks Story” to spearhead his TV series. Dash brought the rights to Earley’s book, but actor Morgan Freeman and Fox studios have signed a deal to do a project on the same subject, he said.

“I want Julie Dash to direct,” Walker said of his proposed television series. “This is a history that has been totally lost in time.”

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