By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Era Chris Black was 65 when she graduated from college with a business degree.
She hadn’t expected such a long layoff when she was growing up in Rainsville, Ala.
“I always liked school. I loved it. I made really good grades,” said Black, who’s now 91 and lives in Tupelo. “I was going to go to college.”
World War II got in her way.
“After they bombed us at Pearl Harbor, I said, ‘I wanted to be Rosie the Riveter,’” she said.
Rosie the Riveter was a fictional character used to recruit women to fill jobs at factories left open by men who’d joined the military. Rosie’s slogan was, “We can do it.”
“We can do it. We can do it,” Black said. “We did it, too.”
She and her twin sister, Eva, went to Gadsden, Ala., for training, but first had to pass an exam.
“I’m not bragging, but I had the highest grades in that big auditorium,” she said.
She trained on B-39s and B-40s, and also found time to meet the man she would marry.
“He was going through training, too,” she said. “This young fellow came by. They said I whistled, but I can’t whistle.”
Harold Black had a habit of being wherever she happened to be, and that wasn’t because she dressed to impress. She wore a red bandana on her head, like Rosie the Riveter.
“You had to wear pants. No woman ever wore pants before. Now, that was a change,” she said. “I wore dresses. I didn’t own pants. I had to get some. I was short, so it wasn’t easy.”
Harold was shipped to Mobile, and she eventually followed. Her boss underestimated her at first.
“He said, ‘I’ve got a job no woman has ever been able to do, and you won’t be able to do it. I’ll give you two weeks,’” she said. “It was the easiest job I ever had.”
The job? Putting Allison engines together for planes.
“They thought I couldn’t do it, but I was good at it,” she said. “We got to where we put out 62 engines a day.”
At times, she was called in to troubleshoot for other departments. A man who had the same job she had was somehow shooting airplane parts two and three stories high. Black stepped in.
“Just because you’re a man it doesn’t mean it’s easier for you to do it,” she said. “He was gracious to take my help, but I couldn’t have let him go on. He would’ve killed somebody.”
After the war, she and Harold raised “three beautiful children” in Chalmette, La., where she eventually earned that business degree.
The delay was longer than she could’ve guessed as a teenager, but Black certainly doesn’t regret the years she served her country as a real-life Rosie the Riveter.
“I loved it. Everybody was so together. Do it. Do it. Do it. You didn’t have time to worry,” she said. “We worked like the dickens to get it done. It was very important. Our boys needed those planes.”