by Bobby Cummings
Office of Naval Research
May 17, 2018
As part of the Office of Naval Research (ONR) National African-American History Month observance, members of the Montford Point Marines Association discussed the experiences of the first African-American Marines who entered the Marine Corps during World War II at an ONR event February 22, 2018.
During the early stages of World War II, the U.S. Marine Corps, for the first time in its history, allowed African-Americans to serve within its ranks. But they were not sent to traditional boot camps of Parris Island, South Carolina or San Diego, California. Instead, African-American Marines were segregated and completed basic training at Montford Point, a facility at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Many of these Marines would be among the first African-American Marines to experience combat during the Battle of Saipan, in 1944.
The retired Marines who spoke at the event included Master Gunnery Sgt. Carroll Braxton, a World War II veteran and Montford Point Marine, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Carmen E. Cole, Montford Point Marine Quantico Chapter No.32 president and national recording secretary.
Braxton, a native of Manassas, Virginia, enlisted in the Marine Corps with several friends in June 1943.
“A letter came to our school explaining they were now going to accept black men into the Marine Corps,” said Braxton. “Three of us decided we would volunteer to go into the Marine Corps. We were sworn in in March of 1943, but they wouldn’t allow us to enter service until we graduated from high school. We graduated in May 1943, and the fourth of June we were at Montford Point.”
Approximately 20,000 African-American recruits received training at Montford Point Camp during World War II.
“When we got to Montfort Point, military police (MP) met us, and they had a few names to call us,” said Braxton. They said, ‘Empty your pockets. Do you have any knives in your pockets? We have knives for you here, you won’t need those knives.’ I had this hat and this MP walked up to me, grabbed my hat, threw it down on the ground and he stomped on it. He said, ‘Boy, you won’t need that again.’ I never did see that hat again.”
World War II marked a turning point in racial relations. On June 25, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry.
“In affirming the policy of full participation in the defense program by all persons regardless of color, race, creed, national origin, and directing certain actions in furtherance of said policy, all departments of the government including the armed forces shall lead the way in erasing discrimination over color or race,” said Roosevelt.
During Braxton’s time at Montford Point, he recalled Roosevelt once came and delivered a short speech.
“One afternoon, we were called outside and this long convertible came along,” said Braxton. “You know who it was? It was President Roosevelt. He said, ‘Gentlemen I’ve got a short speech to give you. You have broken every record that the Marine Corps has ever set, and as far as I’m concerned you’re just as good as any Marine who puts on that uniform.’”
In June 2012, a Congressional Gold Medal was awarded collectively to the Montford Point Marines in recognition of their personal sacrifice and service to their country during World War II.
“These great warriors known as Montford Point Marines we consider barrier-breaking American heroes whose shoulders we stand on. Without these African-Americans, we would not have had the opportunity to serve in the Marine Corps,” said Cole. “The Montford Point Marine Association is proud to be a thriving part of the Marine Corps family.”
Bobby Cummings is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.