African-Americans and World War II—the Story of Montford Point

Montford Point Marines. Image from the Southern Historical Collection (link is external) at UNC-Chapel Hill

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past.

Although a few blacks had served in the Continental Marines during the Revolution, the U.S. Marine Corps was strictly white-only until 1941. That year, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order allowing for all races to participate in all branches of the military in segregated units. The Marine Corps responded by opening Montford Point Camp in April 1942. Part of Camp Lejeune, the facility was specifically for the training of black recruits. At a cost of $750,000, the Corps constructed barracks and support facilities such as a motor pool, chapel, mess hall, steam plant and recreational area. In the era of strict segregation, interaction between white and black Marines during training was practically nonexistent. Nearly 20,000 black Marines, all from Montford Point, served in World War II. Eleven ammunition and 51 depot companies saw action during the war, and the 51st and 52nd Defense Battalions were dispatched to the Pacific but saw no combat. President Harry Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981 ended segregation in the U.S. armed forces. In June 2012 the Montford Point Marines were recognized for their service with the Congressional Gold Medal.

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