By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Romay Johnson Davis, age 103, is the last surviving member of the first all-Black-female World War II battalion that sorted mail overseas.
But Davis still remembers the hectic days that led up to her first transcontinental voyage on the Île de France in February 1945.
“My father was skeptical sometimes about my going off,” Davis said in a recent interview describing her experiences as a member of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – the first battalion of African-American women ever to serve in the U.S. military overseas. “But Mama said, ‘Child, see the world while you can.’”
Expect to see Davis’ trailblazing experiences included in the new Netflix movie that Tyler Perry announced plans to produce in December. “Six Triple Eight” tells the true story of the 855 women in the segregated battalion who joined the war and organized a three-year backlog of undelivered mail.
Kerry Washington and Oprah Winfrey will star in the movie that includes several high-profile actors including Susan Sarandon. It will be filmed in the UK starting Feb. 16, according to news reports. It will be shot in the West Yorkshire city’s historic Little Germany district.
This is the setting for a series of major productions in recent years, including Downton Abbey, Emmerdale, Peaky Blinders, Gentleman Jack and ABC Murders.
These early Black female soldiers had to do everything for themselves. They fixed their own trucks and they fixed one another’s hair. By May 1945, the women had achieved in three months what no one before them had managed to do in two years: They’d cleared the mail backlog in England. From there, they were transferred to Rouen, France, to tackle more mail issues.
While Davis recalls working long shifts in rat-infested warehouses in England and France, showering in cold barracks, and chauffeuring military personnel around Europe during the deadliest conflict in human history, she tried to enjoy herself despite her initial rocky voyage in February 1945, en route to Glasgow, Scotland.
At the time, Davis said she scolded her crying companions, “You can’t get off the ship. You have to train yourself not to be so frightened that you can’t enjoy it. I asked the girls, ‘Now what’s the point of being afraid right now? You can’t do one earthly thing but pray,’” she recalled then chuckled. “I guess I was the brave one.”
Later, Adams was promoted to major. She recalled how a white colonel called her to his office and said bluntly, “Don’t let being an officer go to your head; you are still colored, and I want you to remember that. You people have to stay in your place. Why, your folks might have been slaves to my people right in South Carolina.” The tirade went on for three-quarters of an hour, she wrote in her memoir, adding: “I was proud of the fact that I maintained the position of attention for the whole time.”
Against this troubling backdrop, Adams cited a kinder memory. She recalled how she later ran into a general who’d berated her in Birmingham. The encounter occurred shortly before the Six Triple Eight left Europe.
“It’s not easy to say what I’ve come to say,” he told her, according to her memoir. “The only Negroes I have ever known personally were those who were in the servant capacity or my subordinates in the Army. It’s been a long time since anyone challenged me, Black or white, but you took me on. You outsmarted me, and I am proud that I know you.”
When the monument to the Six Triple Eight was unveiled at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. on a chilly November day in 2018, five members of the Six Triple Eight attended the unveiling ceremony in wheelchairs, their laps covered with blankets.
President Joe Biden signed Congressional Gold Medal legislation for the group on March 14, 2022.
When the Congressional Gold Medal is minted, it will hang in the Smithsonian for everyone to see.