Last February, the 6th Cavalry Museum partnered with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to host a screening of "The Six Triple Eight," a documentary about the only all-Black, all-female unit to deploy overseas during World War II.
Chris McKeever, executive director of the small Fort Oglethorpe Museum, expected a crowd of mostly students.
More than 300 community members, from students to senior citizens, ended up packing the theater at UTC where the screening was held.
"People just kept coming and coming," she said. "We planned one in North Georgia, then COVID [hit]."
While the dedicated screening had to be nixed locally, residents will forever have the chance to share in the battalion's story through a new exhibit opening at the museum. The women, members of the United States Army's 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, trained at the historic Army post where the museum now sits.
A virtual celebration is planned to introduce the exhibit and help share the story of the 6888, who were deployed to Birmingham, England, in February 1945.
They were tasked with sorting and distributing two years' worth of backlogged mail to American G.I.'s serving in Europe.
"They knew they were doing an important job and that the eyes of the world were going to be watching them to see if they succeeded or failed," McKeever said. "At the end of their time there, they had gotten 17 million pieces of mail delivered."
They were given six months to accomplish their task.
Averaging 65,000 pieces of mail per shift, they did it in three months, working around the clock seven days a week.
"This is a story for the ages," said McKeever. "We can all look at their story and say, wow, look what they accomplished, and here I am griping because the internet's down or they didn't have my favorite coffee at the grocery store."
The exhibit features storyboards that tell of the women's struggles — both at home, during the Jim Crow era, and abroad — and their accomplishments. There are also personal items like hats, jackets and medals.
The exhibit was sponsored by an African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Park Service and professionally curated by Caswell Partners and Molly Sampson, the museum's program coordinator.
Visitors to the exhibit will be greeted by an interactive kiosk where they can scan through the timeline, along with other hands-on displays. A series of short films, accessible online to all, was developed for an accompanying school program.
"We've never had an exhibit that actually had everything," McKeever said. "This is 21st century for us."
A separate grant will also help to celebrate the 6888's story outside the building, as well. A Vibrant Communities Grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts is funding a mural on the front of the building celebrating the accomplishments of its Black trainees, among other stories related to the former Army post. It and an accompanying audio box will be finished by June, McKeever said.
A virtual opening for the 6888th exhibit is Thursday, Feb. 25 from 7-8 p.m. Like at the UTC film screening, a panel will speak and answer questions about the battalion. Included is Col. Edna Cummings (Retired), who produced "The Six Triple Eight" documentary.
The exhibit opens to the public Friday, Feb. 26 at 10 a.m.
To register for the virtual presentation, visit eventbrite.com/e/the-6888th-virtual-exhibit-opening-tickets-138489440645.
Contact Jennifer Bardoner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support the museum
With fundraisers canceled and visitors restricted in 2020, the museum also applied for a grant to help offset its operating costs. The Tucker Foundation has provided a matching $5,000 grant.
” … When all is said and done, the Tucker gift is essentially a $10,000 value to us,” said museum Executive Director Chris McKeever. “That’s huge. Qualifying for the Tucker Foundation matching $5,000 grant by receiving $5,000 in donations from the community would be enough to pay the utilities, internet and insurance for 2021.”
In assessing the pandemic’s financial blow to the nonprofit museum, she said first-quarter revenue for 2020 was reduced by 62% compared to 2019.