Barbara Perkins, a Sacramento activist who shared memories of World War II for Ken Burns' documentary "The War," died of cancer on Feb. 16, her 88th birthday, her family said.
Mrs. Perkins and her husband, William, appeared in Burns' film about Americans on the home front and the battlefield. She worked as a typist at McClellan Air Force Base, while he was in the Army's 4909th Aviation Base Unit. She and her close friend, Jeroline Thompson, sometimes danced in the 4909th's band.
"We would dress up (as) glamorous as we could," she said in "The War."
"But our shoes were never very glamorous because shoes were rationed, you know. Leather? Those shoes were made out of cardboard. They looked good, but if you danced too hard on 'em more than one or two nights they were practically falling apart!"
Mrs. Perkins' memories of the war included stories of patriotism and prejudice. She recalled how Americans of all walks of life came together to support the effort. But she did her part as a clerk in an all-black supply depot at McClellan while her husband served in a segregated Army unit.
She left her job at McClellan to be a writer for the Sacramento Outlook, an African American newspaper. She reported on community issues and became an advocate for civil rights and educational opportunities.
She was active in the Women's Civic Improvement Club, the Black Women's Network and Gamma Phi Delta, a service sorority. She joined demonstrations against racial bias in housing and jobs. She once called her daughter's elementary school to complain about books in the library that contained defamatory comments about African Americans.
Mrs. Perkins came from a family with deep Northern California roots and a tradition of activism. Her mother's family settled in Oroville in the 1870s. Her father, James Wayne Covington, who died when she was 3 years old, was president of the Sacramento NAACP during the 1920s.
Born in 1924 in Sacramento, Barbara Covington moved with her mother and two brothers to Fresno after her father died. She attended Fresno State College but could not afford tuition and books, so she returned to Sacramento in 1942 and worked at McClellan.
She had a daughter during marriage to an aircraft mechanic, Eugene Johnson, that ended in divorce. She married William Perkins in 1959 and took a job as one of the first African American tax representatives for the State Board of Equalization. She retired as a supervisor after more than 30 years.
Mrs. Perkins and her husband volunteered with the Sacramento Food Bank and supported Loaves & Fishes. Her husband, a retired postal worker who served as a truck driver in Germany and Guam with the all-black 4909th unit, died in 2003.
"She loved people, and she felt a great obligation to help the community," said Thompson, who met her during the war and was a lifelong friend. "She was always doing something to help others."