America is once again paying special tribute to the contributions of its African-American citizens. Great men and women such as Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 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 fieldingcompletely segregated units would be dropped in favor of the fully integrated
force we know today.
James E. "Jimmy" Stewart, Sr., my father of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was responsible for the first black ( a young man from Langston University Alfred Masters 1942 ) to be recruited one minute after midnight and sworn in the USMC. Stewart himself eventually enlisted shortly after. Jimmy volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942 and served with the first ever battalion of Black Marines. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank; of Tech Sergeant and returned to Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Natural Gas Company.
From its humble beginnings, Camp Montford Point would rise to the occasion and pass over 20,000 African Americans through its hallowed 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
This year, 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.
Contact: James E. Stewart Jr.
President, Montford Point Marines 28
5708 Chris Mar Ave.
Clinton, Maryland 20735
301-877-7610 or 240-535-5580
Son of James E. Stewart, Sr.
Original Montford Marine ( 1942 - 1945 )