November 08, 2011

Manchin Sponsors Legislation to Honor Montford Point Marines with Congressional Gold Medal

Highest civilian honor would be given to first African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps

Washington, D.C.— U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is cosponsoring legislation to honor the first African Americans to serve in the United States Marine Corps with the United States’ highest civilian honor. The Montford Point Marines of World War II are a group of about 20,000 African American Marines who trained at Camp Montford Point near segregated Jacksonville, North Carolina. 

“The service of the Montford Point Marines – even as they were being treated unequally – is a remarkable demonstration of the strong American spirit,” Senator Manchin said. “While they faced segregation, their bravery and sacrifice was no less than that of their white counterparts. These soldiers were willing to put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and democracy, and to defend a nation that did not yet treat them as equals. Their service helped propel America into victory in World War II, and they should be honored as the heroes they are.”  

On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 8802, establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission and making it possible for African Americans to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps for the first time. Recruiting for the first Africa American Marines began on June 1, 1942, and they were trained at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina. These recruits were not allowed to enter Camp Lejeune, where white Marines received training, unless accompanied by a white Marine. At the time, the services were not allowed to be integrated. 

Overall, 19,168 African Americans served in the Marine Corps in World War II. Sixteen years after Montford Point was closed as a training facility for African American recruits, a group of men planned a reunion of the “Men of Montford Point,” and on September 15, 1965, about 400 Montford Point Marines gathered at the Adelphi Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, laying the foundation for the Montford Point Marine Association, Inc. The Association is organized as a nonmilitary, nonprofit entity, and its primary mission is to preserve the legacy of the first African American Marines. Today, the Association has 36 chapters throughout the United States.