Wars within wars

Sweet Ge­or­gia Brown , doc­u­men­tary, not rated, New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum, 2.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Jonathan Richards

As Amer­ica’s dis­turb­ing his­tory of in­sti­tu­tional, ca­sual, and fun­da­men­tal racism con­tin­ues to show it­self in a gath­er­ing drum­beat of news sto­ries, film­maker Lawrence E. Walker comes along with a doc­u­men­tary that brings a lit­tle-known chap­ter of this his­tory to light. In World War II, the Women’s Army Aux­il­iary Corps (WAAC; later called the Women’s Army Corps) put women in uni­form to serve be­hind desks and in sup­port roles so that men could be freed for com­bat duty. As with their male coun­ter­parts in the armed ser­vices, African-Amer­i­can women were kept strictly seg­re­gated from their white peers. As one of them re­calls in this doc­u­men­tary, they were not even al­lowed to use the swim­ming pool at the same time as white women.

Walker’s doc­u­men­tary is, an open­ing credit tells us, “in­spired by the story of Ma­jor Char­ity Adams Ear­ley.” Ear­ley was a twenty-three-year-old grad­u­ate of Wil­ber­force Univer­sity when the Ja­panese bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor brought the United States into the war. The fol­low­ing June she re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to join the WAAC, and af­ter com­plet­ing ba­sic train­ing, she be­came the first black woman com­mis­sioned as an of­fi­cer. Walker uses Ear­ley’s story (and pas­sages from her mem­oir, One Wo­man’s Army ) as the touch­stone for his ex­am­i­na­tion of the chal­lenges, op­por­tu­ni­ties, and re­stric­tions placed be­fore African-Amer­i­can women in the mil­i­tary at a time when Jim Crow was still the law of much of the land.

The force­ful and charis­matic ed­u­ca­tor and ac­tivist Mary McLeod Bethune, a close friend of Eleanor Roo­sevelt’s, was a driv­ing force in the es­tab­lish­ment of the WAAC and the cam­paign to at­tract young black women to the corps. And Walker in­tro­duces us to other African-Amer­i­can women who served in a mil­i­tary ruled by seg­re­ga­tion un­til Pres­i­dent Harry S. Tru­man ended the prac­tice by ex­ec­u­tive or­der sev­eral years af­ter the war’s end.

Walker’s telling of the story is ham­pered by what ap­pears to be a paucity of avail­able vis­ual ma­te­rial, and even at a mod­est one-hour run­ning time, the doc­u­men­tary sags un­der the bur­den of re­peated im­ages, both still and film clips. The sound­track pro­vides some lift, but it could have been more ro­bust. What is com­pelling is the sub­ject mat­ter — the corps of ded­i­cated, pa­tri­otic women who served a coun­try that treated them like sec­ond-class cit­i­zens, dis­crim­i­nat­ing against them on the ba­sis of their race and gen­der.

“Sweet Ge­or­gia Brown” screens at 2 p.m. Sun­day, March 29, at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum, 113 Lin­coln Ave. By mu­seum ad­mis­sion. Call 505-476-5152 for reser­va­tions.

Army aux­il­iaries Ruth Wade and Lu­cille Mayo ser­vice a truck

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