March 28, 2014
KENANSVILLE — Representatives of the Montford Point Camp Marines, America’s first African American Marines, spoke at James Sprunt Community College recently, with a presentation describing the influence and impact of these history-making soldiers.
Until 1942, the United States Marine Corps refused to recruit African Americans, American Indians and other minorities. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission in 1941 forced the Corps to begin recruiting African American Marines in 1942. Those recruits received basic training at the segregated Montford Point Camp, adjacent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Recruited as a result of America’s entry into World War II, all African-American Marines would continue to train at Montford Point until 1949, well after the War’s end. In the decades that followed, thousands who trained at Montford Point saw combat duty in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War while fighting for civil rights in their homeland. In 1974 Montford Point was renamed Camp Johnson in honor of the late Sargeant Major Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, one of the first African Americans to join the Marine Corps in October 1942.
In essence these men were “fighting for the right to fight,” according to Colonel Grover Lewis III, Retired. Col. Lewis, the first African American commander of Camp Johnson, previously known as Montford Point, gave a moving recollection of the lessons he learned from members of the original Montford Point marines, including humility, character, honor, courage, and commitment. In the segregated world of the 1940’s “all they could do was prove that they could,” said Col Lewis. “They knew they were going to be a change.”
Also addressing attendees was Houston Shinal, Montford Point Marine Museum Deputy Director; Louise Greggs, Design and Display and Assistant to the Director; and L. Shannon Sabsook, National Historian of the Montford Point Marines and President of the Montford Point Marine Association, Cherry Point (Chapter 36). Also attending was Finney Greggs, Director of the Montford Point Marine Museum.