Local vet talks of black struggle

9 Oct 2002 | Lance Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

The man committed himself to serving his country, giving his life for the freedom of others.  He joined the Marine Corps because of its crisp uniforms and disciplined mentality. He expected a life of glorious adventure -- fighting for his nation and proving himself in the eyes of his family and country.

When he stepped off the bus at recruit training, he realized his dreams would not come true the way he expected.

He was black, and instead of training alongside white-Americans, the Marine Corps sent blacks in the early-1940s to Montford Point, a location here in the remote part of a swamp.  He had to work twice as hard as his fellow recruits at Parris Island, S.C., to prove himself to his white drill instructors. He had to deal with substandard living conditions, explained Turner G. Blount, a current Jacksonville, N.C., city councilman and coordinator of the Montford Point Museum here.

Between 1941 and 1949, more than 20,000 black-Marines knew Camp Johnson as Montford Point, the Marine Corps recruit depot for black Americans.

Although the depot is long closed and renamed, the history of the Marines who sweated and bled there is little known.

Below the Mason-Dixon line in 1941, it was hard for black Americans to live in a white society.  Segregation laws and a lingering Jim Crow mentality left from the Civil War made it hard for blacks to hold jobs, a political office or even their own land. 

When America committed itself to war in 1941, it saw the need for immediate expansion of its armed services.  A presidential order was passed to integrate the services and the Corps at the time seemed hard-pressed to comply. 

"The Marine Corps didn't want us at all," explained Blount. "Much like the Marine Corps had to prove its need to America, we had to prove our need to the Marine Corps."

Montford Point opened in 1942 to facilitate all the black recruits who enlisted in the Marine Corps across America. 

"In ... boot camp, we started with white drill instructors. As black Marines proved themselves ... they were sent to be drill instructors.  I remember junior enlisted black Marines there drilling us, doing everything a drill instructor at Parris Island would do," said Blount.

Because of its importance to Marine Corps history, some of the original 'Montford Pointers' came together to form the Montford Point Marine Association.  The association is a non-profit organization running the Montford Point Museum, located on Camp Johnson near the original recruit-training site. 

"Every so often, some original Montford Pointers will drop by the museum, and we'll get a chance to fill in some pieces of the puzzle we have," said Blount.

Hundreds of pictures have been donated or loaned to the museum, but few of the pictures have the names of those in them.

"When Montford Pointers drop by, they look at the pictures and sometimes they recognize themselves or someone they knew from back then. We can put names behind the faces in the pictures," said Blount.

The museum is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. until 7 p.m.  On Saturdays, the Museum is open 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Admission is free and group tours are welcome.  Blount said the museum is interested in any memorabilia from Montford Point Marines.

Contact Blount at (910) 347-4937 to schedule group or troop tours or to donate or loan objects to the museum.