Washington — In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order requiring the armed services to recruit and enlist African Americans. Thousands of African-American men were eager to serve their country and, after joining up, were sent to basic training at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
The Montford Point Marines, as they would come to be called, were segregated from their white counterparts and refused entry to nearby Camp Lejeune unless accompanied by a white serviceman. More than 19,000 African-American troops trained at Camp Montford Point, but received little recognition for their wartime service.
On June 27, the 368 surviving Montford Point Marines were recognized by Congress with its highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, in a ceremony on Capitol Hill. With many of the survivors in attendance, William McDowell, representing the Montford Point Marines, accepted the medal on behalf of all the honorees during the ceremony. “Today we gather to honor the Marines of Montford Point not just for their pioneering role in breaking down the color barrier in the U.S. Marine Corps,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, “but for their courage and their sacrifice amid the indignity of racial discrimination.”
“By their actions and their courage,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, “the Montford Point Marines paved a way to justice at home. You overcame adversity and opened the doors of opportunity. You drove America to live up to its ideals: civil rights, freedom and equality, which is our heritage and our hope.”
The following day the Montford Point Marines were the guests of honor at at a parade hosted by the commandant of the Marine Corps at the Washington Marine Barracks. General James F. Amos, the current commandant of the Marine Corps, was a driving force behind the awarding of the medal. “It is long overdue,” Amos said on the announcement of the honor. “My promise to you this evening is that your story will not be forgotten. It will take its rightful place, and it will be forever anchored in the rich history of the United States Marine Corps.”