Invisible Warriors, a Documentary about Black Women During WWII
Junious Ricardo Stanton
Last Saturday my wife and I attended a screening of a documentary entitled Invisible Warriors African American Women in World War II at the Lawnside New Jersey Middle School. The documentary is about the 600,000 African American women who left the farms and their menial jobs as cooks and domestic workers and traveled to the cities to work in the armament factories during World War II. The film was written, directed and produced by Gregory S. Cooke. It has taken him ten years to get to this point and the film is still not complete.
Invisible Warriors; African American Women in World War II tells the story of the Black women who answered the call to serve not in the military but as workers in the myriad factories and the assembly lines producing airplanes, ships, and munitions in support of the war effort. Cooke dedicated the film to women like his mother who he calls The Black Rosie the Riveters, who represented the hundreds of thousands of unsung heroes who battled American racial apartheid, economic privation during the Great Depression and gender discrimination when they first applied for the jobs and keeping them once they were hired.
The film’s producer and director Gregory S. Cooke was present at the screening to explain the genesis of the film and share why he embarked on making this documentary. His mother, a resident of Norfolk Virginia, left home in 1943 when she was eighteen years old to travel to Washington D.C. to get her very first job as a clerk typist in the US Patent Office during World War II. “Much of the work I’ve done has been dedicated to her. She told me this story when I was five or six years old. I think the real reason I remember is because of the train, I’ve always had a love affair with trains and the fact that she rode on her suitcase in a segregated Jim Crow car in Virginia in 1943. Because of the ride she took I was born in Philadelphia” Cooke told the audience.
The film features archival footage, still photographs and interviews Cooke conducted with local New Jersey and Philadelphia residents as well as women like Dorothy Height. The film looks at the Black Rosie the Riveters from their perspective, examining the tribulations they experienced breaking into male dominated industries and entering government positions at a time when racial discrimination and animus was rampant. Their story is told through their eyes and we can see their determination and resilience. These women who worked in the factories and government offices are rarely mentioned in the history books but they played a pivotal role in the war effort not just with their labor but by buying of war bonds and their patriotism.
The women filled in when the men went off to fight in the war. Many times they had to assume the role of mother, father and primary breadwinner in their households. They worked long hours around the clock and had to fight gender discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace.
“How many of you saw the film Hidden Figures?” asked Cooke. Well there were only three of them. There were six hundred thousand Rosie the Riveters during World War II. I looked at the 1940 census and if you put all those six hundred thousand sisters in one city they would have been the thirteenth largest city in America based on the 1940 census. Most of the women I spoke to I had to talk into being in the film and give them a history lesson to show them they were important, and how important they were.”
The film has been a labor of love for ten years for Cooke. He poured his heart and soul into it along with his own money. It is still not completely finished and ready for distribution. Cooke still must raise money to finalize some things and resolve some legal issues; but he was glad to screen the film in Lawnside New Jersey an historic all Black town in Camden County. For more information about the film or to donate to its completion, go to https://www.invisiblewarriorsfilm.com.
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