MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
In June of 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an Executive Order establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission to aid in the prevention of discrimination against African Americans in government and defense work positions.
On August 26, 1942, the first African American recruits arrived to Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina to conduct Marine Corps recruit training while unknowingly contributing to one of the most significant developments in Marine Corps history.
“These were the first African Americans to enter into the Marine Corps and they entered at a time where it was believed that blacks could not serve as Marines,” said Houston Shinal, the previous national monument director for the National Montford Point Marine Association. “They came, served and proved that African Americans could serve as honorably as any other Marine.”
According to Shinal, these Marines endured tougher training than recruits from other recruit depots. These men paved the way for approximately 20,000 African Americans to enlist and earn the title of United States Marine over the next 7 years.
“When they started training at Montford Point, they had all white drill instructors and a number of these drill instructors probably pushed them harder, in the hopes that they would give up and decide not to be Marines,” said Shinal. “When they had black drill instructors they pushed them twice as hard with the notion that failure is not an option.”
On Sept. 19, 1949, Montford Point was decommissioned after President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948, permanently abolishing racial segregation in the United States armed forces.
“The Montford Point Marines were trailblazers for folks that looked like me to serve,” said Grover Lewis III, a retired colonel, commanding officer of Camp Johnson from 2005 to 2007. “They allowed others to follow in their footprints to show the worth of all races, and in particular the black race.”
In 2010, Senate Resolution 587 designated August 26 as Montford Point Marines Day in honor of the Marines who displayed immense courage through times of prejudice and segregation because of their unconditional dedication to contribute to the betterment of their country.
In light of the 78th anniversary, the Marine Corps recognizes the Marines who were the foundation of integration within the Marine Corps. The Marines of Montford Point paved the way for inclusion and diversity tthe Marine Corps prides itself upon today.
According to Lewis, the Montford Point Marines’ courage and willingness to serve their country has made the United States as well as the Marine Corps better.
“Some of the freedoms we have preserved today are because the Montford Point Marines walked the line of breaking down the walls of segregation within the Marine Corps,” Lewis said. “We are better, more diverse and a more experienced Corps because what we bring in comes from a piece of the country we live in. The fabric of the Marine Corps is not just one color, it is a multitude of colors and it is because of the ability to serve for all that we are as good as we are today.”