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.