Cathay Williams dressed as a man so she could serve as Pvt. William Cathay in the Army after the Civil War.
Williams, who enlisted in 1866, is the first documented black woman to serve in the Army and the only to serve disguised as a man. She was assigned to Company A of the 38th Infantry, one of four all-black units that were formed that year.
During her speech at Fort George G. Meade to commemorate National Black History Month, Dr. Betty Moseley-Brown paid tribute to Williams and several other pioneer black Americans who served in the armed forces.
Moseley-Brown is the associate director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans. She used humor and her own life story to entertain and inform an audience of mostly service members and DoD civilians Feb. 21 at Club Meade.
The event was hosted by the Defense Media Activity and the Fort Meade garrison.
“It was very educational,” said Sgt. 1st Class Warren Bennett, the Equal Opportunity adviser for the 902nd Military Intelligence Group. “A lot of them sure paved the way.”
Bennett said Moseley-Brown’s presentation inspired him to learn more about early black warriors.
“I hope she comes back for Women’s History Month,” he said.
The 90-minute event featured a moving rendition of the national anthem by Spc. Matthew Wiley of the 704th MI Brigade and a sampling of Southern cuisine provided by Club Meade.
Sgt. Cedric Haller of DMA was the emcee. Garrison Chaplain (Col.) Terry Whiteside gave the invocation and the benediction.
Ray Shepherd, director of DMA, and Garrison Commander Col. Tom Rickard also attended the event.
The origins of National Black History Month date back to 1926 when a black Harvard-trained historian, Carter G. Woodson, created National Negro History Week. The second week of February was selected because it coincides with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. Since then, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month.
This year’s theme, “African Americans in Times of War,” was selected by the Association for the Study of African American Life and Culture.
Woodson founded the Association of the Study of Negro History and Life in 1915. The organization’s name changed in 1972.
According to its website, its mission is to “promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about black life, history and culture to the global community.”
Moseley-Brown began her presentation by sharing her family’s military roots. She served as a Marine from 1978 to 1992, following in the footsteps of her mother, who enlisted in the Army, and her grandfather who was a Navy cook and baker.
Moseley-Brown described the weeks of basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., as an experience that “builds character.”
She jokingly called the island “the land that God forgot.”
“It built honesty, courage — all things you live by and will go with you forever,” Moseley-Brown said.
The former Marine was named to her present post in 2004. Moseley-Brown advises the Department of Veterans Affairs on programs and issues that are related to women veterans.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Moseley-Brown shared the contributions of various black Americans in each service branch.
She highlighted the achievements of Pvt. Howard P. Perry, the first black American to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1942; Maj. Charity Adams, who led a battalion of 850 black women that helped deliver the mail to U.S. troops in Europe during World War II; the Golden Thirteen, the first blacks to become commissioned and warrant officers in the Navy; Fireman 1st Class Marvin Sanders, a Coast Guardsman who served on an Army repair ship in the Pacific during World War II; and 2nd Lt. Marcella Hayes, the first black woman to become a pilot in the armed forces.
Moseley-Brown also credited retired Gen. Colin Powell, the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired Adm. Michelle Howard, the first woman to become a four-star admiral, for their dedication and example as role models to other service members and the nation’s youths.
“I’m sure you can all think of men and women of color who have really changed your life,” Moseley-Brown said to the audience.
She then acknowledged the military for being the first American institution to strive for equity for people of color and its efforts to eliminate the obstacles of racism and sexism.
“We are on a mission,” Moseley-Brown said. “We must stand together to get the job done.”
AER raises funds for post service members
Fort Meade’s Army Emergency Relief Campaign is underway. Its goal is raise $65,000.
For more than 75 years, Army Emergency Relief has provided interest-free loans and grants to soldiers, Army retirees and their families to cover expenses for emergencies ranging from vehicle repairs and funeral costs to utility bills and rent.
A reciprocal agreement between AER and the aid organizations affiliated with the other service branches allows non-Army military personnel to receive emergency funding from AER, according to the public affairs department at AER headquarters.
“We’re really excited,” said 1st Lt. Sara Laszaic, the garrison’s AER coordinator. “We’re hoping to get past our goal.”
Laszaic of the 241st Military Police Company is working with Elias Mendez-Sierra, Fort Meade’s AER officer, throughout the campaign.
Last year, Fort Meade raised $74,000 and provided more than $500,000 in financial assistance for 325 Army families.
“We did a great job last year and we’re hoping we can do it again this year,” Laszaic said.
The AER campaign kicked off Feb. 28 during the Commander’s Call at the Post Theater. The campaign ends May 15.
Laszaic will collect the funds, which will be processed by AER headquarters in Alexandria, Va., and made available to Fort Meade service members.
AER funds are available to soldiers and Army retirees and their families. The organization also provides scholarships for Army dependents.
Mendez-Sierra, whose office is at the Community Readiness Center at 830 Chisholm Ave., helps people apply for funds, which are distributed in three levels.
For Level 1, soldiers can apply for monetary assistance of up to $3,000 with approval from the AER officer.
For Level 2, soldiers require the approval of the Garrison Commander/Garrison Command Sgt. for monetary assistance of up to $4,000.
For Level 3, soldiers must be approved by AER headquarters for monetary assistance above $4,000.
Compiled by staff of the Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs office. For more information about what is happening on Fort Meade, visit www.ftmeade.army.mil and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ftmeade.