From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (African American Women Veterans in and from Kentucky)

Didlake, Emma L. Underwood

(born: March 13, 1905  -  died: August 16, 2015) 

Military Branch

Women's Army Corps

Active Duty Entered

February 11, 1943

Active Duty Exit

September 1943

Exit Rank


Awards & Decorations

Women's Army Corps Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal


Emma Underwood Didlake was born in Boligee, AL, the daughter of Sam and Amanda Underwood. The family was enumerated in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. Census when they were living in Alabama. In 1922, Emma  married Oscar Didlake in Michigan. Oscar, also from Alabama, was a coal miner. He and his wife moved to Lynch, KY. They had three children when they were enumerated in the 1930 U.S. Census. In the 1940 U.S. Census, the family was living in Verda Camp in Harlan County, KY.

The Didlake family was part of the migration of families from Alabama to the coal mining counties in eastern Kentucky. In 1943, Emma Didlake and her family were still living in Lynch when she went to Cincinnati, OH  and enlisted in the Army, according to her record in the National Archives, Access to Archival Databases. A  driver while in the military, she served less than a year. After her service she and her family moved to Detroit, MI, in 1944. Her husband Oscar Didlake died in Detroit in 1973.

Emma Didlake was a licensed hair dresser and a civil rights activist in Detroit. In 2013, she was awarded the James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 58th Annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner held by the Detroit NAACP. 

Emma L. Underwood Didlake died in West Bloomfield, MI in 2015 and is buried at the Westlawn Cemetery. Prior to her death, she was thought to be the oldest living veteran of World War II. She had met with President Obama in the Oval Office about a month before her death. 

Sources: "In Brief: Services held for 110-year-old veteran," The Herald-Palladium, 8/23/2015, p. A4; Michigan Marriage Records in Ancestry; Tammy S. Battaglia, "NAACP Freedom Fund dinner draws 5,000 to celebration," Detroit Free Press, 4/29/2013, pp. A1 and  7A; Jeff Karoub, "Woman deemed oldest US veteran set for honor flight to meet Obama," The Times Herald, 7/17/2015, p. A5; and Emma "Big Mama" Underwood Didlake at Find A Grave.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Harlan County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Lynch, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Verda, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Item Relations

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Herald-palladium (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Detroit free press (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The Times herald (newspaper)

Related Entries Citing this Entry


Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Didlake, Emma L. Underwood,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 14, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-05-15 15:57:46