Whenever I think of World War II, the first things that come to mind are the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler. One of the last things that would have crossed my mind was the idea of black nurses in the military during WWII. The contributions of black women in WWII were never discussed in my history class.
However, after attending the play “A Need Fulfilled,” put on by N.C. Central University’s Theater Department for a three-week run in February and March, I left with a greater understanding of how the first black nurses paved the way for women of color to serve in the military today.
The first black nurses that served in WWII were forced to adhere to racial etiquette, and conform to the social times in spite of treating only black wounded soldiers.
The play, written and directed by NCCU professor Dr. Arthur M. Reese, shines a light on several black nurses that served in the Navy. Amazing black women such as Marion Ridgeley, Elinor Powell, Phyllis Mae Dailey, Prudence Burns Burrell and other vivacious black nurses who served were the foundation of the play.
These nurses traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to Africa to care for wounded black soldiers serving in the war.
I was amazed by how these group of women were only limited to caring for black soldiers and were often reprimanded or looked down upon if they tried to care for white men. On that note, the play also briefly focused on Rudolph Patterson, one of the black soldiers that served in the war.
I enjoyed how each nurses’ personality came to life within the play and provided a humorous aspect. I loved how Phyllis was outspoken among the other nurses and adamant in regards to her beliefs based on her family’s history. NCCU alumna K’La Moore said playing the role of Phyllis was easy as the role quite similar to her personality.
“I try not to bother anybody, but if someone bothers me I can be very feisty,” Moore said. “It’s been easy to connect to her and understand where she’s coming from, from what I read.”
Moore added that her “face lit up and her cheeks were up to her eyes” when she found out she was playing the role of Phyllis.
Theatre senior Lisa Fakir switched back and forth between the role of the narrator of “A Need Fulfilled” and the character Marion C. Ridgeley. Fakir mentioned she had the opportunity to talk to Ridgeley’s own son over the phone.
“He was so descriptive about his relationship with his mother and he was very forward in telling me intimate details about his mother,” Fakir said. “Through hearing how he talked about his mother, I could hear the pain still, that he would give one more day to speak with his mother, stating that it was not enough time.”
Within the play, there were special sound effects like gunshots being fired throughout the theater. There were also realistic props and stage makeup for injuries, blood tanks, and medical equipment.
“A Need Fulfilled” was definitely a play worth seeing. At first, I thought it would be boring and overly historical; however, that was not the case. I followed along with the play the entire time and looked forward to the next scene.