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Interview with Filmmaker of Invisible Warriors: African American Women in World War II

A team of scholars and award-winning directors got together to develop probably one of the most important documentaries of the decade though many Americans are possibly unaware of its importance.

The film Invisible Warriors: African American Women in World War II is a documentary about the 600,000 African American women that were recruited and enlisted for war production, government offices, and the U.S. military, for the very first time in American history. These women were "Rosie The Riveters". However, history has done very little to acknowledge their efforts.

The documentary discloses personal interviews with women who lived nearly a century and survived to reveal their accounts of progress and discountenance throughout the World War II era. Interviewees include the late Dr. Dorothy Height, a civil and women's rights activist, president of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), to women warriors serving in the military and other positions that were revolutionary to women at the time. World War II made it possible for women to openly take on professional trades for the very first time in history. There was a sense of pride. On the downside, there was a considerable amount of prejudice. Thus, African American women showed they that were equal to men and of whites in intelligence and capability, contrary to popular beliefs. Even though African American women were unaware of the magnitude of their stride, they gladly traded in domestic service roles that simply paid $5 a week to obtain skilled positions that amounted to $50 dollars per week. This was a huge deal for Black women, especially since many had been poor and reduced to the lowest type of labor.

Historian and educator Gregory S. Cooke is the producer for the film and also Associate Director for an earlier documentary, Choc ’late Soldiers from the USA, a documentary about African American soldiers throughout WWII. His mother, Ethel Rebecca Jones was an inspiration for  Invisible Warriors. In 1943, at the age of 18, she obtained a job in Washington, D.C. as a clerk typist at the U.S. Patents office, a job which was formerly held by white men. Though his mother never talked about those early years, not even the mephitis of segregation, he was able to capture a part of her story through the many women being interviewed. Cooke felt that these women were deserving of recognition, equal to the rest of the women that contributed to the era. He also noted that Anne Currie, a Correspondent, and Anchor for NBC had recently done a television special to honor "Rosie the Riveters", women workers throughout World War II. Fifty women were present. None of them were African American. If it wasn't for women, the nation would not have had its success. Both black and white women have been greatly discounted for their efforts. Yet, the contributions of Black women have been obscured from that era.

Although African American women were able to move into unconventional roles, their opportunities were limited. Promotions were reserved only for white women. Racism was firmly affixed to almost every opportunity, including military enrollment. On some levels, the momentum was positive for these Black Riveters, but the obstacles proved to be daunting and fixed. Yet, these women were stalwart in their efforts to grab new opportunities for employment. After all, the war was personal. Their brothers and fathers were serving in the military.  Their family members were called to service and they were patriots.

As the war ended, many African American women returned to their former roles. Some got married like Cooke's mother. Yet their perception of being black and being a woman had changed. Cooke noted that WWII may have been one of the best things that happened to African Americans, throughout the 20th century. African Americans were irrevocably employed in some industries. This brought fruition to their working roles and a developing mindset. Black women discovered that "They could do it!"

Yet, regardless of the major-league quality and press appearances, donations for the film are incredibly slim. To progress the production of the documentary, the filmmakers have cut the budget in half. Upon publishing this interview in 2013, the Invisible Warriors team was concerned that there was very little interest in projects such as these which is why the  film’s website expressed a plea for support.

"While we want everyone, who has familial or personal connections to World War II to help us complete Invisible Warriors, we especially appeal to African American women to get involved...All women, but especially Black women who enjoy success in America today, stand on their shoulders. Warriors opened doors for you — educationally and professionally..."

Upon polling our audience at the time, Women For Action learned that while a vast majority of women of color were unaware of this part of history, they were interested in the story being told and wanted to know how they could support. Though the documentary film has not been completed, one could assess that with the right resources, Invisible Warriors could gain the visibility it needs and many more donors.


Gregory S. Cooke is also the Associate Director for the previous documentary, Choc ’late Soldiers from the USA, a documentary about African American soldiers throughout WWII. He teaches at Drexel University and The Community College of Philadelphia.

Revised 1/16/2019

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Julene Allen