By Deidre McGee
“I will always look up to my great Aunt Reba as my role model!”, stated Jade Roberson with confidence and enthusiasm. Great Niece, Jade is the young bi-racial great descendant of Reba Alexander. During our conversation, Jade demonstrated an unfettered pride and passion of a bright young girl beginning her journey into the world. She understands not only the importance of knowing her history, but also of understanding her responsibility to carry forth the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, WASPs and WAVES to her peers and to the young people after her. Jade lives in North Carolina and proudly sports her great Aunt’s WAVE tattoo.
Jade’s great Aunt, Reba Alexander was born in Albany, GA, August of 1922 into a family of nine children. Reba grew up working on the family farm as a sharecropper. She married several times, but her only true love was an Italian soldier from New York. This union was not meant to be as societal pressures discouraged marriage to a “Yankie”. Reba’s longest marriage was to a serviceman for more than 13 years. Although Reba was Caucasian, she had no tolerance for racism. She instilled the sometimes-unpopular concept of acceptance and equity in Jade. Jade was quick to point out that Reba was not your typical quiet demure southerner, in fact, she had a vocabulary that could make most men blush!
At a young age Reba was disillusioned with the stereotypical expectations of women as homemakers and mothers. She became an inspiration to women at the young age 21 by becoming the first woman in Albany to enlist in the U.S. Navy as a WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). In the 1940’s, this division of the Navy was created during World War II to free up active-duty male personnel for war duty during WWII. Women were not allowed to become pilots; however, president Roosevelt signed a bill in 1943 creating a women’s naval reserve. As you can imagine, during that time, women serving in the Navy were not widely supported in Congress or by the Navy, but women like “Spicy Reba” set out to prove that women were not only willing, but capable.
Reba was stationed in Florida and resided in a mansion that the U.S. government had seized from Al Capone! It was there that she became trained as a Parachute Rigger in support of the Navy pilots. The initial enlistees were primarily white, but 72 African-American women eventually served. WAVES totaled around 2.5 percent of the Navy’s total strength.
A defining moment in her career was the death of her brother, Loyce who passed away a week before D-Day. Loyce’s wife who worked for the telegraph system during the war was able to notify Reba of her oldest son’s death in Vietnam. When asked about the greatest invention or contribution she experienced in her lifetime, she replied “bar soap”! Reba was honored with a 21-gun salute at her funeral services In August of 2022. Reba passed away at the age of 100.