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Montford Poinr Marines Documentary

Sep 20, 2004

September 20, 2004
UNCW Documentary Examines Experiences of First
African-American Marines

Sept. 20, 2004

WILMINGTON, NC – 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, N.C., and became the first African-Americans to
serve in the United States Marine Corps.

In July, Congress approved $500,000 through the Department
of Defense to produce the documentary, a joint effort of
the University of North Carolina Wilmington and South
Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., working
closely with the Montford Point Marine Museum at Camp
Lejeune, N.C. The award was made possible due to diligent
efforts of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.
Representative James Clyburn, also of South Carolina, was
also supportive of the project.

“All Montford Point veterans encountered are anxious to see
their story told to the American people, as well they
should be,” said Dr. Melton McLaurin, professor emeritus of
history at UNCW and writer/director of the documentary.
“Theirs is a story of incredible loyalty and service to the
nation in the face of prejudice and discrimination. They
not only were the first African Americans to serve as
Marines, they also integrated the Marine Corps at the unit
level during the Korean War.

“They have been an overlooked part of what Tom Brokaw
labeled the ‘Greatest Generation.’ This documentary will
introduce the American public to their accomplishments, to
their courage, both moral and physical, and to their
loyalty to their country,” McLaurin said.

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, N.C., and would
continue to do so until 1949.

Some of those trained at Montford Point saw action in the
Pacific Theater at places like Saipan, Iwo Jima and
Okinawa, while most served in support units in the United
States and overseas. After the Second World War, thousands
who trained at Montford Point, until the segregated camp
closed in 1949, made the Corps their career, and many saw
combat duty in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. The
story of these men who desegregated the Marine Corps and
loyally served their country in three major wars is largely
unknown to the American public.

In addition to McLaurin, UNCW personnel involved in the
project include Dustin Miller, director of UNCW-TV. Finney
Greggs, retired Marine first sergeant and director of the
Montford Point Marine Museum, will also work closely with
the project, as will Clarence Willie, a retired Marine
lieutenant colonel, now serving as superintendent of
schools in Fairfield County, S.C. Much of the work at South
Carolina State University will be coordinated by project
investigator Dr. Learie Luke, interim chair of South
Carolina State University’s Department of Social Sciences.

In many ways, the project is a race against time. Many of
the Montford Point veterans are no longer alive and others
are in ill health. Greggs estimates that some 1,500-2,000
Montford Pointers are still alive, but of those, only about
half are ambulatory.

Since 2001, the UNCW administration has supported the
project in its early phases. This support enabled UNCW-TV,
working with McLaurin and Willie, already to record 43
Montford Point veterans, with plans to tape at least 10
more including David Dinkins, former mayor of New York
City, by the end of October 2004.

While South Carolina State will administer the grant, UNCW
will be responsible for several aspects of the
documentary’s development, including video production and
editing. UNCW also plans to post portions of the interviews
and other material gathered for the documentary on a Web
site through Randall Library so people around the world can
learn about the Montford Point Marines.

Assisting with archival research and finding music
appropriate for the documentary will be SCSU professor of
United States history, Dr. William Hine as well as
students. SCSU also expects to prepare lessons plans to be
used with the documentary in elementary and secondary

McLaurin hopes to have a rough cut of the documentary ready
by July in time to show it at the 40th annual convention of
the Montford Point Marines Association in Chicago. The
finished product should be completed by Sept. 30, 2005,
when the federal fiscal year ends.

“With this grant from Congress, we have the money to make a
first-rate documentary,” said McLaurin. “Our goal is to
have it aired nationally on PBS.”



Historical advisor Byron Stewart PhD


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