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Editors Teachers & Friends Black History

Feb 1, 2006

Dear Editors Teachers & Friends: Copy this for Black
History Month

As February approaches, America is once again preparing to
pay special tribute to the contributions of its
African-American citizens. Great men and women such as
Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King
will have their stories told and their legacies celebrated,
and rightly so. This year, however, with American forces
heavily committed in Iraq – and the Marine Corps at the
forefront of our nation’s battles yet again – it’d be
appropriate to remember the contributions of a lesser-known
group of black pioneers as well, the Montford Point
Marines.

Today Marines serve in a fully integrated Corps in which
African-Americans comprise one-fifth of the total troop
strength. African-American officers, non-commissioned
officers, and enlisted personnel are omnipresent, their
service such a normal part of Marine life that it escapes
notice. The fact that this was not always so, that there
was a time when there were no black Marines, should not be
overlooked.

In the months before Pearl Harbor, as the nation’s
attention became increasingly drawn to the horrors gripping
Europe and the Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt –
at the urging of his wife, Eleanor, and faced with the
threat of a march on Washington by civil rights activist A.
Philip Randolph – signed Executive Order 8802, establishing
the Fair Employment Practice Commission and prohibiting
racial discrimination by any government agency. With a
stroke of his pen FDR had officially opened to blacks not
only positions in the post-office and other federal
bureaucracies, but also in one of America’s most celebrated
all white bastions: The United States Marine Corps.

In compliance with the order, which was controversial to
say the least, the Marine Corps began recruitment of black
enlistees on June 1, 1942 at Camp Montford Point, now known
as Camp Lejeune, which was then little more than a field
carved out of a dense North Carolina pine forest. Camp
Montford Point would become the recruitment and advanced
training facility for all black marine enlistees, from 1942
through 1949, when the practice of fielding completely
segregated units would be dropped in favor of the fully
integrated force we know today. From its humble beginnings,
Camp Montford Point would rise to the occasion and pass
over 20,000 African-Americans through its hollowed grounds,
and men who became Marines at Camp Montford Point would go
on to serve their country with honor and distinction during
the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and
beyond. Read the complete history of the Montford Point
Marines at www.mpma28.com Now, sixty-four years later,
black marines have proudly borne their nation’s flag in
combat. From the days at Iwo Jima, to the battles reaching
us by way of headlines in Iraq.

This February, with our nation once again looking towards
the ‘Corps’ for its defense, I hope we are all encouraged
to remember, honor and learn more about the stories of this
collection of men as well, men who helped defend and carry
the promise of America abroad, even while – for them – it
hadn’t been fully realized at home.

 JAMES E STEWART JR PRESIDENT

JOHN TILLMAN VICE PRESIDENT

Historical advisor Byron Stewart PhD

 

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