In 1941 the United States had begun to prepare for the possibility of war and consequently, millions of jobs were being created. However, racial discrimination kept African Americans and other minorities from obtaining these defense industry jobs. In response to pressure from A. Philip Randolph, who had been organizing a march on Washington, and other Black leaders (as well as his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt), President Roosevelt signed Executive Order No. 8802 on June 25, 1941. While E.O. 8802 did not ban segregation, it did open up positions to African Americans, stating that “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in the defense industries of Government because of race, creed, color, or national origin…”
Prior to E.O. 8802, the U.S. Army and Navy had allowed African Americans to join – albeit segregated from white units and/or relegated to ratings of steward or cook. On the other hand, the U.S. Marine Corps enforced complete racial discrimination, having never allowed African Americans to join. That is until June 1, 1942, almost a year after the signing of E.O. 8802, when the *first black Marine, Alfred Masters, was sworn-in.
The first African American Marine recruits arrived for basic training on August 26, 1942. Although, unlike white recruits who trained at Parris Island or San Diego, Black recruits were sent to a segregated training facility named Montford Point. Montford Point was located adjacent to Camp Lejeune. But, when compared to Camp Lejeune, the conditions at Montford Point were far from ideal. Additionally, Montford Point Marines continued to endure racism, not even being allowed to enter Camp Lejeune without being accompanied by a white Marine.
Despite the obstacles, African American men continued to voluntarily join the Marine Corps. Montford Point Marines were trained for anti-aircraft defense battalions, as well as supply and logistical roles. The first black unit to deploy overseas, the 1st Depot Company, left Montford Point on April 16, 1943. By the end of WWII, approximately 13,000 Montford Point Marines were deployed overseas, many seeing action at Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.
After the war, Montford Point continued to operate, with more than 20,000 Black Marines receiving training at the camp. Ultimately, in response to Executive Order No. 9981 signed by President Truman, all branches of the military were desegregated and Montford Point was decommissioned on September 9, 1949. In 1974, Montford Point was re-named Camp Johnson and today serves as the home of the Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools.
Photographs documenting Montford Point Marines are available in the National Archives Still Picture Branch. Photographs can be found within Record Group 127: Records of the US Marine Corps and Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information. There are no copyright restrictions on the photographs used in this blog post.
- *According to Blacks in the Marine Corps, a USMC publication, the first man to enlist was Alfred Masters (page 3) but the first recruit to set foot at Montford Point was Howard P. Perry (page 5).
- African Americans in the United States Marine Corps – Timeline
- Who Were the Montford Point Marines?
- National Montford Point Marine Association, Inc.
- Montford Point Marines (1942-1949)
- Timeline – A Chronology of Key Events in the History of African American Military Service
- A Short History of Integration in the US Armed Forces
- Our Documents – Executive Order 8802 – Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry
- Our Documents – Executive Order 9981 – Desegregation of the Armed Forces
- Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) – Montford Point Marines
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- National Archives (111-SC-202199)