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Marines of Montford Point

America's First Black Marines

Melton A. McLaurin

Publication Year: 2007

With an executive order from President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, the United States Marine Corps--the last all-white branch of the U.S. military--was forced to begin recruiting and enlisting African Americans. The first black recruits received basic training at the segregated Camp Montford Point, adjacent to Camp Lejeune, near Jacksonville, North Carolina. Between 1942 and 1949 (when the base was closed as a result of President Truman's 1948 order fully desegregating all military forces) more than 20,000 men trained at Montford Point, most of them going on to serve in the Pacific Theatre in World War II as members of support units. This book, in conjunction with the documentary film of the same name, tells the story of these Marines for the first time.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Contents, Maps and Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

This project began with a chance conversation in the spring of 1999 with Dr. Clarence Willie, Lieutenant Colonel, Retired, United States Marine Corps. After his career in the Marine Corps, Willie obtained a doctorate in education and, in 1999, was serving as assistant superintendent of schools in Brunswick...

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pp. 1-13

The men who reported for duty at Camp Montford Point in August 1942 were the first African Americans to serve their nation as Marines since the American Revolution. Theirs is a story of honor, duty, and patriotism, characteristic of what has come to be known as the Greatest Generation. It is also the...

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Chapter 1. Home Towns

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pp. 14-22

In May 1942 Major General Thomas Holcomb, Commandant of the Marine Corps, ordered the Corps’s Southern, Eastern, and Central Recruiting Divisions to begin recruiting African Americans on June 1. The Southern Division was to supply approximately half of the initial 900 recruits envisioned, the other two divisions about 200 men each. Given the...

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Chapter 2. Joining Up

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pp. 23-35

The men of Montford Point joined the Corps for reasons as varied as their backgrounds and, for the most part, for reasons similar to those of white recruits. Some responded to the Marines’ reputation as a fighting service, hoping to become one of a band of fierce warriors, a modern gladiator. Some succumbed to the allure of adventure, to the opportunity...

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Chapter 3. Getting There

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pp. 36-46

Most of the young men who came to Montford Point boarded a train to begin the journey that would take them into the service of their country. The rail lines funneled them to the East Coast, deep into the segregated South, to railway stations in such small eastern North Carolina towns as Wilmington and Rocky Mount. There they detrained to await a...

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Chapter 4. Training at Montford Point

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pp. 47-76

While the construction of Camp Lejeune began in 1941, it was not until April 1942 that construction began at Montford Point, which was located on a small peninsula jutting out into the New River. Separated from Montford Point by a branch of the New River, the much larger Camp Lejeune extended southeastward to the Atlantic, providing miles of beach...

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Chapter 5. Resisting Segregation in the Civilian World

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pp. 77-95

Impoverished, relatively isolated, and completely segregated, Onslow County was representative of many rural southern counties in the 1940s. According to the 1940 census, it contained not a single urban area, defined as a community of a thousand people. Of the county’s 17,939 residents, the majority, 13,077, were white. The 1940 census...

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Chapter 6. Fighting Segregation in the Corps

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pp. 96-117

It was not just in the South that Montford Point Marines and all African Americans faced racial discrimination; segregation reflected the racial attitudes and beliefs of the entire nation’s white population. For the entire time black recruits trained at Montford Point, segregation was the official policy of the Corps, and it was the law of the United...

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Chapter 7. Combat and Service: World War II

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pp. 118-155

For the men trained at Montford Point, just as for white Marines trained at Parris Island, engaging the enemy in combat was the ultimate goal. They understood the dangers of combat, and feared combat, but feared even more the possibility that racism would deny them the opportunity to experience it, a fear that was well grounded. Like the combat...

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Chapter 8. Combat and Service: Korea and Vietnam

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pp. 156-177

The experiences of the men who trained at Montford Point and served in Korea and Vietnam were nothing like those of the Montford Point veterans of World War II. Nearly 20,000 black Marines had served in World War II, but at the outbreak of the Korean War, less than 1,500 African Americans served in the Corps, nearly a third of whom...

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Chapter 9. Legacy

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pp. 178-182

For the men of Montford Point, the memories of their experiences together are deeply personal, powerful, and unforgettable. Montford Point shaped them into a unique brotherhood, men who share and identify with the Marines’ reputation as the nation’s mythic warriors. They are proud of their service in three wars. They understand...

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Epilogue: Interviewee Biographies

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pp. 183-191

The brief biographies that follow were compiled primarily from interviews recorded on video tape between 2001 and 2005 for a documentary on the Montford Point Marines. The questions asked were designed to explore the subjects’ experiences as Marines, not their lives after leaving the Corps, although...

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Further Reading

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pp. 193-196

While the literature on African Americans in the military can hardly be called voluminous, a substantial, and growing, body of work allows the interested reader to explore the subject in more detail. This essay, although not intended as a comprehensive bibliography, provides a starting point for readers wishing to learn more...

Index of Interviewees

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pp. 197-198


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pp. 199-202

E-ISBN-13: 9781469605227
E-ISBN-10: 1469605228
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807830970
Print-ISBN-10: 0807830976

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Montford Point Camp (Camp Lejeune, N.C.).
  • United States. Marine Corps -- African Americans -- History -- 20th century.
  • Camp Lejeune (N.C.) -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century
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