"Breaking a tradition of 167 years
African American Radio Presents
"NEW WORLD A 'COMING"
As Heard On WMCA Radio 1940s
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Montford Point Marines
(The Chosen Few)
"The footprints of the Montford Point Marines were left on the beaches of Roi-Namur, Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo-Jima, and Okinawa.
Tides and winds have, long ago, washed them out into the seas of history, but, "The Chosen Few" in field shoes and canvass leggings, also left their mark in the firm concrete of Marine Corps History.
And, as new generations of Marines learn to march in those footprints, their cadence assumes the proud stride of the men from Montford Point." General Leonard F. Chapman Jr., United States Marine Corps
A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington Movement In the Spring of 1941, as the nation's industrial sector was being converted to military production, A. Philip Randolph, president of the all-black Sleeping Car Porters' Union, organized the March on Washington Movement to press for equal treatment for blacks in both the military and defense industries. He threatened to lead an all-black march on Washington in June, 1942 if the president refused to ban segregation in the military and racial discrimination in defense hiring.
In June 1941, on the eve of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 8802 prohibiting government contractors from engaging in employment discrimination based on race, color or national origin. This order is the first presidential action ever taken to prevent employment discrimination by private employers holding government contracts. The Executive Order applies to all defense contractors, but contains no enforcement authority. President Roosevelt signs the Executive Order primarily to ensure that there are no strikes or demonstrations disrupting the manufacture of military supplies as the country prepares for War.
It was May 1943, and the young man in his $54 dress blues just wanted to get away from base and the stress of wartime, take some liberty, and see his family. But when he got to Cleveland, Pfc. R.J. Wood was arrested and charged with impersonating a Marine, according to Bennie J. McRae's "The Montford Point Marines" Web site. Like most Americans at that time, the Cleveland police had never seen an African-American Marine before.
Wood was one of 21,609 African Americans trained at Montford Point, N.C. They all soon proved that they were real Marines, many of them at places like Iwo Jima.
|During wartime training at Montford Point, Cpl. Arvin Lou Ghazlo shows a recruit, Pvt. Ernest C. Jones, how to use judo to make the enemy's bayonet useless. |
Today's Marine Corps, like its sister services, is fully integrated, but for decades, the Marines did not admit African Americans. In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 to establish the Fair Employment Practice Commission, banning discrimination "because of race, creed, color, or national origin" in all government agencies.
Recruiting for the "Montford Marines" began on June 1, 1942. Thousands of African-American men, eager to serve, flocked to recruiting offices. The quota of 1,200 men were housed in prefabricated huts near segregated Jacksonville, N.C., where railroad tracks divided white residents from black. The troops at Montford experienced racism again and again. For example, unless accompanied by a white Marine, these men were not allowed to enter Camp Lejeune.
By 1945, all drill instructors and many NCOs at Montford Point were black. The Montford Marines performed well in their duties at home and abroad, despite the strictures placed on them by society in their era. In practice, these men surpassed all anti-aircraft gunnery records previously set by Marines, and named their weapon "Lena" after their favorite singer, Lena Horne.
Most important, the men of Montford Point made it impossible for the Marine Corps to return to its prewar policy. President Harry S. Truman eliminated segregated units in 1949. But the Montford Point Marines have not been forgotten. In 1998, Parris Island drum major Staff Sgt. Vernon Harris composed the music to a song, "I'll Take the Marines," commemorating the group. The words had been written by a Montford Marine, LaSalle Vaughn. "If African Americans at that time could go through the rigorous training of Marines when it was segregated and they were looked down on and still be proud Marines … it encourages all Marines to look forward and recognize our progress," Harris said.