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Saturday, February 22, 2014

David Dinkins: Montford Point Marine and Former Mayor of New York

"Let's here it for New York....." the chorus to the Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind" mega hit begins. But an older generation might prefer Frank Sinatra's tribute of "New York, New York." I included these popular songs because a former mayor of the "Big Apple" was a Montford Point Marine. He is the honorable David N. Dinkins, who was elected the first African American mayor of New York City. New York is a world class financial, fashion, cultural, and entertainment center. David Dinkins is 86 years old, and currently a Public Affairs Professor at Columbia University. His policies as mayor has had a lasting impact for the city. This Montford Point Marine describes New York City, a population of over eight million, as a "Gorgeous Mosaic" of ethnicities. New York's population ranks among the top three of the United States, according to the United States 2012 census. Interestingly enough, he became a Montford Point Marine the same way he became mayor: Methodically and with persistence.

image via:

David Dinkins was born in Trenton, New Jersey on July 10, 1927. His parents separated when he was a young boy and his mother moved to Harlem, NY and worked as a domestic. The elder Dinkins later remarried and returned to Trenton where David graduated high school. Essentially, his reason for joining the Marines was his desire to remain alive. He was seventeen years old in 1945 and young men from his neighborhood were rapidly becoming fatalities of World War II. David Dinkins decided to take his destiny into his own hands by taking proactive measures:

And I figured a way to stay alive is to be well trained is to be a Marine. And so I tried to enlist in the Marine Corps. Well, the idea is you have to enlist before you get drafted, because once you're drafted, they tell you where you're going. You say you want Navy, they give you Army. (


Life As A Marine

 Unlike men who might have shot themselves in the foot to get out of the service, David Dinkins embarked on a mission. He was so determined to become a Marine that he went to sign up in Camden, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Newark, and New York and each time was told that the quota for Negro soldiers was reached. Shortly thereafter, a physical exam revealed that Dinkins had high blood pressure.* This condition would have exempted him from the military but Dinkins remained steadfast. His blood pressure later was normal. Meanwhile a letter was written to the draft board stating if Dinkins passes the exam to place him in the Marines. On July 10, 1945, he turned eighteen. David registered for the draft and requested immediate induction. A little over a week later he was called. (

The transcript from University of North Carolina provided a glimpse of boot camp life at Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The DIs or drill instructors were tough-- he found out the hard way during his first encounter when he was struck by one. Despite the tough training, the scrawny Dinkins was accepting of it because it meant he had to "toe the line." Again, Dinkins signed up because he wanted to remain alive. He was not looking for a way out of the Corps.

Private David Dinkins remained stateside and was a driver at the base, leaving at 4am under cover of darkness. Dinkins was an ambulance driver, and sprayed DDT** according to the taped interview. He also was an assistant file clerk, since he was proven to be very efficient in the office. When it was time to reenlist he decided not to, and enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C. upon the urging of his stepmother, an alum. At first he was not very serious with his studies, as he wanted "to party." David Dinkins then became serious and majored in Mathematics, graduating with honors in 1950. He met the smartest girl in his graduate school math class, Joyce Burrows, who later became his wife. Joyce was the daughter of a New York state assemblymen, which led to Dinkins becoming involved in politics.(, wikipedia)

David Dinkins while in office.

Life As A Politician

After Howard, Dinkins attended, Rutgers for a fellowship in math and then switched to Brooklyn Law School. He graduated in 1956 and started his own firm. Next, he began his ascent into New York City politics by acquiring access to the inner workings of the political machine, economic clout, and a thick skin. David Dinkins:

Became part of an influential group of African American politicians that included Denny Farrell, Percy Sutton, Basil Patterson, and Charles Rangel, the later three together with Dinkins were known as the "Gang of Four".

Also, New York Daily News reported that Dinkins was one of fifty African American investors who helped the late Percy Sutton*** establish the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation in 1971. Inner City Broadcasting Corporation owned the top ranked urban radio station WBLS and saved the famed Apollo Theater from bankruptcy in 1981.

David Dinkins was President of the Board of Elections from 1972-1973, City Clerk 1975-1985 and Manhattan Borough President in 1985. He was elected the 106th mayor of New York City on November 7, 1989, defeating three term mayor Ed Koch, two other democrat candidates and Rudy Giuliani. He was not elected for another term. Many sources cite the handling of the three day long Crown Heights Riots in 1991, the perception of Dinkins being ineffectual with the crime rate, ethnic tensions, and high voter turn out from the borough of Staten Islandv as factors in contributing to his loss. In Dinkin's memoir, released in 2013 called A Mayor's Life: Governing New York's Gorgeous Mosaic, he candidly talks about his defeat and contributions. (, wikipedia)

New York Faced Special Challenges

New York City in the late 80s and early 90s, like many of America's urban cities, faced many special challenges. A recession, unemployment, gangs, crime, the introduction of the crack epidemic and AIDS wreaked havoc on the residents. Many of my readers might remember when New York overall was deemed a dangerous place filled with urban blight. There was racial discord and violence. Films of the era such as New Jack City and Do the Right Thing, come to mind.

The New York Times in 2009 wrote about David Dinkins achievements as mayor. Highlights include:

  • Decreased the New York City crime rate more than any other time in history. This was done by increasing the size of the New York Police Department and the hiring of Raymond W. Kelley as police commissioner. 
  • Instituted Beacon Community Centers that provided a wide range of services.
  • Revitalized a once decaying Times Square and negotiated with Walt Disney Corporation to repair an old 42nd Street theater.
  •  Established significant rehabilitation of dilapidated housing in Harlem, South Bronx and Brooklyn despite budget constraints
  • Procured a 99 year lease from the United States Tennis Association for New York City, cited as the best athletic stadium deal in the country.
  • Enacted policies and actions that reduced the homeless population to its lowest point in 20 years.

David Dinkins also is involved in countless social organizations such as 100 Black Men, Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc., and serves on numerous boards. The Columbia University website lists his implementation of "Safe Streets, Safe City: Cops and Kids" crime reduction program for children in addition to involvement in various municipal leadership organizations.

So there you have an achievement packed life of one Montford Point Marine. David Dinkins decided to be proactive about his military career as a teenager to insure that he did not to become a casualty. He took steps to enlist as a Marine, because he knew that he would receive the best training out of all the Armed forces. He did not give up after five USMC recruitment offices said "No, we reached our Negro quota." Higher ups noting his persistence wrote a letter insisting that he be allowed to become a Marine.

The Congressional award winning Montford Point Marine then later served as an politician for one of the most important cities in the world. Dinkins described New York as a city with the "Gorgeous Mosaic" of people. He established ground-breaking policies for millions of residents and was in office with the largest crime drop in New York City history. Since then, the appealing luster of The Big Apple from a golden era has been restored. More individuals are apt to sing the metropolis' praises in a song, like the two I included in the introductory paragraph.

David Dinkins was able to achieve two important goals in his life; becoming one of the first Black Marines and the first Black mayor of New York City.

Would you have been as persistent as Dinkins in becoming a Marine during WWII?  Have you ever visited or lived in New York in the 1990s? What about today?

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See also:

They Don't Tell You Where You're Going


Notes: *high blood pressure- Incidence of high blood pressure for US Blacks is 41% due to genetics, environmental and social factors. Source:


***Percy Sutton- Also a Congressional Medal Recipient. Sutton was an intelligence officer and an aviation cadet with the Tuskegee Airmen. Sutton, an attorney, provided legal representation for Malcolm X.  Profiled at

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Passing of A Hartford Legend: Walter "Doc" Hurley

I was in the final stages of locating photos and creating an outline on one of the most famous Montford Marines when something appeared across my feed in a social media account. It was a tribute drawing from Bob Englehart, a political cartoonist from the Hartford Courant. The illustration read "Doc Hurley." I immediately was touched because my father used to play cards with Coach Walter "Doc" Hurley. Just last year we drove down Hurley's former street and my father pointed out the Tudor house that overlooked Keney Park. I discussed Doc Hurley's passing with my father and he reiterated how his late older brother Jay used to play football as an undergrad against Hurley on an opposing HBCU team. Both men were extremely tall and a long lasting friendship occurred between two giants whose statures alone did not define them. My late Uncle Jay would see Doc Hurley when he came to visit us in Connecticut.

"I didn't know he was a Marine," I said. Dozens of news sources plus a book stated he served in the Pacific during the 1940s as a Marine. As this blog's loyal readers already know, that would automatically make him a Montford Point Marine, since Montford Point was where all African American Marines were trained at the Camp Lejeune facility prior to desegregation. Thus, with supporting documentation, Doc Hurley should receive a Medal of Honor posthumously.

Source: Hartford Courant

Walter "Doc" Hurley- 1922-2014

Walter "Doc" Hurley was an educator, school administer and basketball coach. He was born in Albany, Georgia and moved to Hartford, CT where he was a four sport star athlete. Hurley graduated from Weaver High School in 1941 and served in the Marines. He attended Virginia State University and spent his summers in Hartford as a supervisor in a parks and recreation program. Hurley was a towering, commanding man with the "intense stare" and booming voice. Some of his young men that Hurley coached even made it to the NBA; they later reflected in a 2006 article from the Hartford Courant on the influence that Doc Hurley had:

In those days you didn't call them mentor, but that's what he was. He was the largest person I had ever seen. He was larger than life to me, and in a way still is."

Hurley played Professional football in the 1940s with the All American Football Conference Brooklyn Dodgers. He was a winning high school track and football coach and a noted basketball official in Virginia. He also began his teaching career there. Despite Hurley's successful reputation, when there was a basketball coach vacancy at Hurley's alma mata, Weaver High School, Hurley was passed over. Hartford simply was not ready for a Black coach at the time. Even today, headlines are still made when an African American is made a collegiate or professional sports coach. Said Hurley, "it stung" and according to the article Hurley "never got over it." (Hartford Courant)

Doc Hurley in 1940
Image via

It was Doc Hurley that calmed some 500 Weaver High School students down on April 4, 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Doc Hurley wasn't a teacher at Weaver, but he was summoned from his physical education job at an elementary school to prevent frustrated students from protesting. Hurley arrived and gathered the football team, since he knew many of them as kids by name, along with leaders of street gangs to diffuse the potentially violent situation. His quick-thinking paid off as Weaver High School remained unscathed while Hartford's North End was ravaged by riots for months. He asked the question, "Where are you going to get educated if you burn down the school?" Now that's power. (Hartford Courant)

The educator went on to become an assistant principal at Weaver High School and set up the Doc Hurley Basketball Tournament in 1975. Over a half million dollars in college scholarships have been given out over the years with the criteria based on academics, an essay and financial need.

"There are hundreds of people from throughout the Hartford area whose lives were transformed because of the higher education opportunities that Doc Hurley brought to their lives over the past several decades," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday. "He was one of the most passionate voices for Hartford and its residents, respected by all, and brought such positive energy to generations of residents. He truly is a Hartford legend and is proof that one person can make a lasting, positive impact." Hartford Courant

Unfortunately, great things can become temporarily tarnished. State officials allege that his daughter misused college funds for her own personal use. A new scholarship fund has been established through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, called the Walter Doc Hurley Scholarship Fund for Greater Hartford. Flags were flown at half mast under the direction of Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, and the girls and boys Weaver High School Baskeball teams are dedicating the rest of their season in Doc Hurley's honor. They will be wearing jerseys with Doc Hurley's name on them. (Hartford Courant)

 And how did Walter Doc Hurley get the moniker "Doc?" His father wanted him to grow up to become a doctor so that he could be successful. I think this Marine did remarkably well, don't you? Do you know any educators like him? Would it be awesome to Hurley's legacy if he is honored with a Congressional Award posthumously?

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Hartford Courant file photo.

Hartford Courant

See Also:
A Montford Point Marine and Tuskegee Airmen in One Immediate Family
Connecticut: The Land of Steady Habits


* Gwen Hurley, the wife of Doc Hurley, preceded her husband in death in 2005. She taught at Mark Twain Elementary for many years and also had a lasting impact on young people and the Hartford community. My friend Pat, an administrator, would speak fondly of Mrs. Hurley and her sayings.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Alfred Masters Becomes the First Black Marine Inducted into the Armed Services

It is very commonplace to know someone in the military. If you ask around, there is someone in your circle, extended circle, family, workplace who is a member of the armed forces. You might have known someone who was in the ROTC in high school, or in the Reserves. A classmate might have attended college courtesy of the G.I Bill.* But prior to 1942, Black Marines did not exist. Not even in support positions, like the other branches of the military in the United States.

 In Executive Order 8802 Bans Discrimination in the National Defense Industry, I described how this law prohibited discrimination in federal government positions and the armed forces. It was signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on June 25, 1941, and ended the centuries long tradition of the United State Marine Corps barring Blacks from enlisting. (See Early Black Military Experiences: Colonial America and the Revolutionary War for a synopsis on African American Soldiers in the Armed Services.)

According to Leatherneck Magazine, Major General Commandment Thomas Holcomb testified before the General Board of Navy on January 23, 1942, that "There would be a general lost of efficiency in the Marine Corps if we take Negroes." Holcomb also said that "given the choice between having Marine Corps of 5,000 Whites or 500,000 Blacks, he would rather have the Whites."

Obviously, the upper echelons were not pleased into taking African Americans enlistees. However,with increasing pressure, the Marines had to comply. The Marines purchased land to establish barracks at New River, North Carolina in early 1941. It was a 1600 acre tract. Montford Point was named after Colonel James Montford, a heralded Civil War veteran whose family's roots extend to the American Revolution. (Marine Corps Combat Service Support Schools)

On 26 April 1942, Montford Point was opened under the command of Colonel Samuel A. Woods and a select group of enlisted staff noncommissioned officers (SNCO's). This group of SNCO's were known as the "Special Enlisted Staff." Their mission was to set up the camp and then function as drill instructors for the new recruits. The first black Marine recruits were selected for their leadership and demonstrated maturity for they would be the backbone of the black SNCO/Drill Instructor core. Nearly 20,000 African-American recruits were trained at Montford Point until 1949, when the U. S. military was fully integrated. (MCCSSS)

So Montford Point was specifically set up for Colored recruits to have separate barracks and other supporting facilities, along with specialized training. Recruits were carefully selected. But I have come across seemingly conflicting reports on who the first Black Marine was. Admittedly, I was confused; I saw photos of Howard P. Perry, but then I saw Alfred Masters. There could not be two "firsts." So I had to look closer to answer the question. The answer is this: Howard P. Perry of Charlotte, North Carolina has the distinction of being the first Black recruit. Perry reported to boot camp in August 26, 1942. The first Black Marine recruit to be sworn in was Alfred Masters on June 1, 1942 at 12: 01 a.m. in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Masters was inducted into the Corps in his home state out west, and then traveled to Montford Point, Camp Lejeune, NC.(

Technical Sargeant Alfred Masters
First Black Marine

The wife of Alfred Masters, Isabel Masters recalled:

"Alfred and I were on the elevator at the post office in Oklahoma 
City with a Marine recruitment officer who asked Alfred if he wanted 
to be the first Black Marine. Of course, the answer was yes. Alfred 
was wearing a Langston University sweater, which prompted the 
recruiter to accost him. On June 1, 1942, Monday morning, one 
minute after midnight, Alfred was inducted into the armed services as 
the first Black Marine. In Texas, however, another young man was 
inducted one minute after 8 a.m. as the first Black Marine. However, 
Alfred's name is always listed first, being a degree of controversy about it."


Source: Flickr
Montford Point Boot Camp

New Montford Point Marine Recruits, New River, NC
Department of Defense

For Alfred Masters, his induction into the Corps meant that he took a sacred oath promising to adhere to it for his entire military career. Alfred Masters becomes the First Black Marine inducted into the Armed Services on June 1, 1942. Masters and other recruits at Montford Point in the summer of 1942 were positioned to be influential game changers.

Have you heard about the Montford Point Marines prior to reading this blog? If so how? Don't forget to become a subscriber to Montford Point Marines and Honor Blogspot!

Please share this post in honor of Black History Month! Black History is American History.

Montford Point was renamed Camp Johnson in honor of Sergeant Major Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson, a nineteen year Army and Navy veteran. Johnson was a Montford Point Marine drill instructor. (mccsss)

Langston University is a public university located 45 minutes from Oklahoma City, OK in Langston, OK. It was founded in 1897 and is considered the westernmost historically Black college in the US, from, wikipedia.

*G.I.- "Government Issue," Veterans Benefit Program used for education, business loans, housing, etc.
ROTC-Reserve Officer Training Corps
Reserves-A military organization of citizens who combine a military role with a civilian career.

**Repost: The daughter of Alfred Masters notified me that the previous picture identified with her father was incorrect. I immediately switched to the above correct photo and apologized for the error.  

Leatherneck Magazine
Marine Corps Combat Special Support School
Montford Point Marine Association

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