These five African-American women – Dorothy Winifred Byrd, Julia Watson Mosley Shields, Olivia Hooker, Aileen Anita Cooke Moore and Yvonne Cumberbatch – are trailblazers who deserve commendation although not much is known about them.
Byrd, Shields, Hooker Moore and Cumberbatch were members of the United State Coast Guard. During their time in service to the country, the second world war took place. They were the only African-American women among over 11,000 women in the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve. The women’s reserve was collectively known as SPARs.
Former Coast Guard officer, K. Denise Rucker Krepp, sought to find out more about these heroes who very little is known about and found out this much about who they were/are, what happened to them during the war and post-war, and how their lives have been.
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According to Krepp who depended heavily on the National Archives, before joining the Coast Guard, Dr. Hooker survived the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. She later served on the Tulsa Race Riot Commission.
She was on active duty as a yeoman from March 1945 to June 1946. After World War II, she earned a master’s degree at Columbia University and then a doctorate at the University of Rochester.
In honour of her service to the nation and the Guard, the Coast Guard named a building after her on Staten Island. Dr. Hooker died last year at the age of 103.
Yvonne Cumberbatch, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1917, arrived in the U.S. at the age of 7 aboard the SS Voltaire and became a naturalized U.S. citizen on December 16, 1943.
She joined the Coast Guard on June 2, 1945, and served as a SPAR until April 30, 1946. After World War II, Ms. Cumberbatch lived in New York City. She went back to visit her home country in 1953 and died in Philadelphia on July 30, 1988.
Although Julia Watson Mosley Shields suffered a lot of racial bias growing up, it did not stop her from serving her country on active duty in the Coast Guard. Three of her brothers and their dad served in the U.S. Army; two brothers and their father served during World War II and the other during the Korean War.
A little about the discrimination Ms. Shields suffered; born in Farmville, Virginia in 1921, she attended segregated schools, which were overcrowded and underfunded to the point that by 1951, students sued for better services.
The Farmville case, plus four additional cases, were combined to form Brown v. The Board of Education. The Supreme Court mandated school integration in 1954. The leaders of the Farmville schools refused to do so and closed all schools in 1959. The schools didn’t re-open until 1964.
Ms. Shields’ husband also served in the Army during the Second World War, making them the first multi-service African-American family – a fact previously unrecognized.
After World War II, Ms. Shields and her husband lived in Richmond, Virginia. Their race was denoted (as was then acceptable) by an asterisk in the city’s phone book. Ms. Shields died in 1999.
Aileen Anita Cooke Moore served as a SPAR from May 6, 1945, until April 10, 1946. She worked at the Boston separation center. Ms. Moore died in Buffalo, New York in 1992. There is no record on Ancestry.com or in the National Archives on who her husband was or if they had any children.
She was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1925. Per the federal census, Ms. Moore’s parents were both from Illinois. Ms. Moore and her parents lived in Pasadena, California in 1930 and 1940.
Last but not least is Dorothy Winifred Byrd. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information available on her. Apart from a photo of her on the Coast Guard website and a reference on Ancestry.com of a lady named Dorothy Byrd (1922-1982) serving in the Navy during World War II, nothing else. There is no census records or addresses.
Dorothy Winifred Byrd, Julia Watson Mosley Shields, Olivia Hooker, Aileen Anita Cooke Moore and Yvonne Cumberbatch were trailblazers because they opened the door for future generations of Coast Guard women and minorities.