Elizabeth Barker Johnson, veteran of the 6888th, dies at 100

Julia LeDoux
August 28, 2020 - 12:13 pm

Lance King/Getty Images

A member of the Army's only all-female Black World War II unit, the famed 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, has died.

Elizabeth Barker Johnson died Aug. 23 following a brief illness. She was 100. 

A native of  Elkin, N.C., Johnson enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps on March 11, 1943, according to her obituary. She enlisted after seeing a poster of Uncle Sam saying, “I Want You,” The News of Davidson reported.

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After completing basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, Johnson was initially stationed at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. She was then assigned as a truck driver with Company C of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, becoming one of 855 Black women deployed first to England, then to France, where mail had long been delayed.

A private first class at the time, Johnson and her fellow soldiers worked around the clock to end the backlog in six months. Following the war, she entered Winston Salem State Teachers’ College, now Winston-Salem State University, and is thought to be the first woman to use the GI Bill at the school, earning her bachelor’s degree in education, according to the university.

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She spent nearly 40 years teaching in  North Carolina and Virginia, retiring in1985. 

Johnson was unable to attend her college graduation because she started teaching so soon after completing her degree, and "she couldn't find a substitute," according to the university. So last year at the age of 99, she was surprised with a graduation ceremony at WSSU.

"Barker was one of the few surviving members of the 6888th," a tribute to Barker from WSSU reads. "The women of the battalion were not publicly recognized for their contributions in WWII until recently. In November of 2018, a monument was unveiled in their honor at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Johnson’s name is one of 855 engraved on the memorial."

On the day of Barker's death, WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson shared a photo on Facebook of the two hugging at her graduation ceremony. 

“It is with deep sadness that I report the passing of Mrs. Elizabeth Barker Johnson," Elwood wrote. “She inspired the world last year when she was on stage to receive her WSSU diploma after missing her commencement in 1949. She celebrated her 100th birthday this year. She is one of the most incredible people I have met during my time on the planet ... Thank you for your service and your life. I will miss you. I am a better person because of meeting you.”

According to her obituary, Johnson is survived by her son David Johnson, daughter Cynthia Johnson Scott, granddaughters Shandra Scott Bryant and Tiffany Scott, and great-grandchildren Landon and Elizabeth.

Donations in her honor can be made to a scholarship named for her, the Elizabeth Johnson Scholarship at Elkin High School.

Reach Julia LeDoux at Julia@connectingvets.com

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