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.(montfordpointmarines.com)
|Technical Sargeant Alfred Masters|
First Black Marine
The wife of Alfred Masters, Isabel Masters recalled:
montfordpointmarines.com"Alfred and I were on the elevator at the post office in OklahomaCity with a Marine recruitment officer who asked Alfred if he wantedto be the first Black Marine. Of course, the answer was yes. Alfredwas wearing a Langston University sweater, which prompted therecruiter to accost him. On June 1, 1942, Monday morning, oneminute after midnight, Alfred was inducted into the armed services asthe first Black Marine. In Texas, however, another young man wasinducted 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."
Montford Point Boot Camp
|New Montford Point Marine Recruits, New River, NC|
Department of Defense
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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 Langston.edu, 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.
Marine Corps Combat Special Support School
Montford Point Marine Association