On the Front Line of Mil­i­tary In­te­gra­tion

A Lo­cal Life: Blanche L. Scott

The Washington Post Sunday - - Obituaries - By Matt Schudel

In 1920, when Blanche Scott was 5, she moved with her mother and brother to Wash­ing­ton from the marshy ham­let of Boy­d­ton in south­ern Vir­ginia. A few years later, when her mother didn’t come home from work, young Blanche waited for days un­til an un­cle ar­rived to tell her that her mother had been killed in a street­car ac­ci­dent near the Na­tional Zoo.

From that mo­ment on, Scott would later say, she knew she could never de­pend on any­one else and would have to rely only on her­self. She made her in­de­pen­dent way through life, with­out anger or com­plaint, for 91 years un­til she died of a heart ail­ment Feb. 26 at the Knoll­wood mil­i­tary re­tire­ment home in Wash­ing­ton.

Scott grad­u­ated from Dun­bar High School and at­tended Howard Univer­sity in the 1930s un­til she had to quit for lack of money. She was a nurse’s aide at St. El­iz­a­beths Hospi­tal and a clerk at the Navy De­part­ment be­fore en­list­ing in the old Women’s Army Aux­il­iary Corps in 1942. She went on to be­come a black fe­male of­fi­cer in the Army at a time when the mil­i­tary wel­comed nei­ther African Amer­i­cans nor women.

The mil­i­tary was still seg­re­gated dur­ing World War II, when Scott was as­signed to the 6888th Cen­tral Postal Di­rec­tory Bat­tal­ion as a per­son­nel of­fi­cer. Scott and her bat­tal­ion were as­signed to Eng­land and later France to han­dle the mail for U.S. sol­diers in Europe. The 6888th would en­ter his­tory as the only black women’s unit to see ac­tive duty over­seas dur­ing the war.

“They walked into a postal sys­tem that was a dis­as­ter,” said Pat Jerni­gan, a re­tired Army colonel and mil­i­tary his­to­rian, “and they got it straight­ened out.”

“I don’t think this world un­der­stands quite yet the sig­nif­i­cance of women like Maj. Blanche Scott and the women of the 6888,” said Kate Scott, a doc­toral can­di­date at the Col­lege of William & Mary, who in­ter­viewed Scott (no re­la­tion) for an oral his­tory pro­gram of the Women in Mil­i­tary Ser­vice for Amer­ica Me­mo­rial Foun­da­tion. “Women such as Blanche Scott suc­cess­fully opened doors that were pre­vi­ously closed and locked for eth­nic women and women of color.”

Af­ter the war, Scott found a cham­pion in Army Air Forces Col. Ben­jamin O. Davis Jr., who made her a pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer un­der his com­mand. (Davis went on to be the first African Amer­i­can gen­eral in the Air Force.)

When the mil­i­tary was in­te­grated in the late 1940s, Scott was among the first black of­fi­cers, male or fe­male, to com­mand mixed units, and rose to the rank of ma­jor.

“She truly en­joyed the mil­i­tary,” said Mar­garet Bai­ley, a re­tired colonel who knew Scott in re­cent years at Knoll­wood.

Bai­ley, the first African Amer­i­can wo­man to be a colonel in the Army Nurse Corps, said Scott shared her views as a young of­fi­cer in the 1940s: “You some­times had to speak out and de­mand what was right. I was con­stantly say­ing, ‘I want what I’m en­ti­tled to.’ We call it pay­ing your dues. I’m an Amer­i­can. This is my coun­try. I paid my dues.”

Af­ter the Korean War, the mil­i­tary sharply re­duced its num­bers, forc­ing Scott — and thou­sands of oth­ers — out of her ca­reer and the life she had known for more than 10 years. Re­call­ing the vow she made when her mother died, Scott found a way to con­tinue work­ing and to re­tain her mil­i­tary ben­e­fits: She started over at the bot­tom.

Reen­list­ing as a 39-year-old private, she went back to work at the same per­son­nel of­fice at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where she had been a se­nior of­fi­cer. At the same time, she joined the Army Re­serve, where she kept her rank as a ma­jor.

Af­ter 10 years, she re­tired si­mul­ta­ne­ously as a sergeant first class in the reg­u­lar Army and as a ma­jor in the Re­serve. By stay­ing in the Re­serve — and by hav­ing spent 20 years on ac­tive duty — Scott was able to re­tire with a full pen­sion at her high­est rank.

She then be­came a civil­ian em­ployee at the same Army base be­fore re­tir­ing as she ap­proached 60. When she com­pleted her Army ca­reer, she re­turned to col­lege, re­ceiv­ing a de­gree in so­ci­ol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Colorado in 1975.

She then moved back to Wash­ing­ton, where she at­tended St. Luke’s Epis­co­pal Church and en­joyed go­ing on an oc­ca­sional cruise. She never mar­ried. A diminu­tive wo­man who fa­vored bright dresses, she set­tled in Knoll­wood about six years ago.

“She sent ev­ery­body in this build­ing” — about 200 — “a Christ- mas card ev­ery year,” Bai­ley said.

Scott also at­tended gath­er­ings of Women’s Army Corps vet­er­ans, where the women were in­vited to dis­cuss their ex­pe­ri­ences in the Army and in life.

“Blanche got up and talked ex- tem­po­ra­ne­ously,” re­called Jerni­gan, the re­tired colonel. “It was ab­so­lutely in­spi­ra­tional. She had some re­ally tough times, but she was ab­so­lutely with­out any bit­ter­ness or ran­cor. She was at peace with the world.”

U.S. ARMY

Blanche Scott joined the Army when it was friendly to nei­ther African Amer­i­cans nor women and even­tu­ally rose to the rank of ma­jor.

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