ANNAPOLIS, Md. (NNS) -- The Midshipmen Black Studies Group hosted members of the first African American Marine Corps recruits, also known as the Montford Point Marines, at the United States Naval Academy, Feb. 19.
The guests shared their personal stories of their integration into the Marine Corps, as well as their time serving in World War II, with midshipmen, faculty and staff.
"We didn't know what to expect, we didn't really know what we would become or how hard the Marine Corps was," said Franklin Beaird, a Montford Point Marine. "We learned, at least, you'd become a man of steel. You began to understand that if there was any obstacle, if you can't go through it, you're going to make sure that you're going to go over it."
On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which barred government agencies and federal contractors from refusing employment in industries engaged in defense production on the basis of race, creed, color, and/or national origin. Thus, the order required the armed services, including the Marine Corps, to recruit and enlist African Americans.
In 1942, Roosevelt established presidential directive #8802, giving African Americans an opportunity to be recruited into the United States Marine Corps, the last of the U.S. military services to be racially integrated.
African American Marines were segregated, attending basic training at Montford Point, North Carolina. Approximately 2,000 African American Marines received basic training at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949. These men were drafted into military service to fight in World War II.
Exactly a year later, the first African American men volunteered to begin boot camp at the segregated Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Twelve hundred men began their new journey that day while knowing their nation was at war.
"Life in my hometown was pretty difficult," said Lee Douglas Jr., a Montford Point Marine. "You couldn't do, couldn't go and couldn't belong to many things. I thank God that I volunteered to join the USMC and I served my country, and I made it back alive."
Between 1942 and 1949, Camp Montford Point trained more than 20,000 black recruits.
"We all came together as a group, we were all drafted and didn't think of the future." said William Foreman, Montford Point Marine. "We knew there was a war, you see. We all stood tall and lived in the now. We didn't think that we would be making history. The times and the war; it changed us, and the USMC is an outstanding part of us."
Midshipmen reflected on what the Montford Point Marines meant for not only African Americans, but all minorities.
"I think they have paved the way for diversity in general," said Midshipman 1st Class Shakir Robinson, "Whether it's race, gender or religious background, diversity is what makes America strong. To have these Marines come to the Academy to share their experiences really affects us all. One of the best things about celebrating Black History Month, along with all of the multicultural celebrations, is we all get to celebrate our individual differences, as one unit."
In July of 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 negating segregation. In September of 1949, Camp Montford Point was deactivated to allow black recruits to receive basic training at Parris Island and Camp Pendleton.
In 2012, the Marine Corps honored more than 400 Montford Point Marines with the Congressional Gold Medal for their sacrifices for their nation.
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