Congress Honors Black U.S. Marines from Montford Point

Montford Point Marines aboard a troop ship WWII. Photo courtesy of UNCW website.

Unlike the better known black Tuskegee Airmen – the AfricanĀ  Americans who joined the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII were relegated to obscurity despite fighting on the sands of Iwo Jima. They were known as the Montford Point Marines because that’s where they trained – segregated from the white Marines at Camp Lejeune. Congress on Tuesday unanimously acknowledged the Montford Point Marines for their sacrifice and battle against racism.

Pioneering Black Marines Get Their Badge of Courage: USA Today

Congress voted Tuesday to grant the first black fighters of the last military branch to accept them the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 422-0 vote honors about 20,000 Montford Point Marines, who trained in a separate facility called Montford Point that operated at Camp Lejeune, N.C., from 1942 to 1949 when all military branches were segregated.

“This has been a real long time coming,” said Johnny C. Washington, 82. “It seems like everything we did for a long time was hidden. It’s been real frustrating when you see others get recognition and not us.”

While the African-American Army Buffalo Soldiers and the Air Force Tuskegee Airmen have had some measure of renown, the first black Marines have grown old mostly in obscurity. You can read more HERE.

Loyalty and Service in the Face of Prejudice and Discrimination

Black Marines exit the base chapel at Montford Point. Photo courtesy of the UNCW website.

Black Marines exit the base chapel at Montford Point. Photo courtesy of the UNCW website.

In a race against time, the largely untold story of the nation’s first African American Marines will at last be made known through a broadcast quality video documentary. More than 20,000 African Americans trained in segregated facilities between 1942 and 1949 at Montford Point, NC, and became the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps.

From its inception until 1942, the Marine Corps refused to recruit African Americans, American Indians and other minorities. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission in 1941 forced the Corps, despite objections from its leadership, to begin recruiting African American Marines in 1942. The Marines’ first black recruits received basic training at the segregated Montford Point Base adjacent to Camp Lejeune, NC and would continue to do so until 1949.

The Montford Point Marines are the subject of a documentary written and directed by Dr. Melton McLaurin. You can read more about the documentary HERE.

America’s First Black Marines: Images and Transcripts

Montford Point Marines assigned uniforms during WWII. Photo courtesy of the UNCW website.

The history of the Montford Marines is documented on the University of North Carolina Wilmington website.

The images in this photo exhibit offer the best visual record of what the men of Montford Point experienced while in training at the segregated facility at Montford Point and during their participation in the World War II island campaigns of the South Pacific.

The work of a single African American photographer, Roger Smith, provides the bulk of the images of life at Montford Point. Working for the United States Office of War Information, Smith photographed members of the first combat unit formed at Montford Point, the 51st Defense Battalion, in training in March, 1943. His images reveal both the rigors of training the men endured and the close camaraderie that developed among them. They are taken from the Documenting America Collection of the Library of Congress. Smith’s photographs, each identified, are supplemented by the work of other government photographers, whose identities, when known, are noted.

You can view the collection HERE.

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