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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Matter of Public Discussion and Images

The beauty of social media is having an audience of people who support you. From far flung places such as Macao and Mauritius, to people in my father's town, the interest is there.

In the meantime, other stakeholders have become involved. More individuals have decided to help tell my father's story of the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion. I am very grateful for Kevin Sullivan of the Wilson Branch Public Library in Windsor, Connecticut for allowing the talk on the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion to happen. The branch is located fifty yards from my father's residence.

The following week while I was outside of the library on a bench, a teen aged female approached me. She was one of the attendees at my father's event that took place at 4 pm on April 10, 2014. It was early morning and I wondered why wasn't she in school.  I then realized that she was on spring break from school. She inquired about my dad;  I thanked the young lady for her concern and told her I would let him know that she asked about him. 

I couldn't help but notice that there was a group of teen-aged boys that were at the library during the presentation. A librarian had wanted them to join us but they refused. She apologized but I understood-- I taught high school before. For some young people of color, World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and general history, is too far removed from their day to day reality. Yet in fact it is relevant because many issues that African American youths face today are similar to what was faced generations ago.

If the young males were present, they would of learned that my dad came to Connecticut by himself about the same age that they were. He ventured north because that's where so many jobs were at the time. As soon as my father descended the stairs from the bus back in the 1940s, he was accosted by people desperately looking for job seekers. Living in New England was not always the promised land. But rather than bemoan the young males lack of interest, I revisited marketing and presentation. I developed a creative idea which I will detail next month. 

Seen in 1968 is John Phoenix, 83, one of the surviving members of the Montford Point Marines
Montford Point Marine John Phoenix
He fought in Korea and Vietnam. He is now 83 years old.

The above photo was the image that was on my father's poster for his talk at the library. I chose this particular image because it is a photo of a Montford Point Marine that is rarely shown. His name is John Phoenix. I also selected this picture because of the rifle and the bulging bicep. While the person is a Montford Marine it is not a World War II era photo. Clearly the Office of War Information would not have approved of this picture.

Nonetheless, powerful.

"Easter Eggs for Hitler"
Source: National Archives

The above photo was the original image for my father's event. It was the famous "Easter Egg for Hitler" photo. A strong and timely message since Easter was the following week. But I immediately knew that the soldiers were from the Army and served in the European Theater. I pointed it out and the pictures were swapped out of the program. My father would insist that they be Montford Marines.

The story behind the photo comes from Eisenhower National Park Service Museum*:

Technical Sergeant William E. Thomas and Private First Class Joseph Jackson prepared a gift of Special "Easter Eggs" for Adolph Hitler and the German Army. Scrawling such messages on artillery shells in World War II was one way in which artillery soldiers could humorously express their dislike of the enemy.

By March, 1945 many more U.S. combat units of African-Americans were on the front. Lieutenant Colonel Chet Hansen, aide to 12th Army Group commander Omar Bradley, noted in his diary on April 8, 1945, that Negroes are now being used in volunteer (combat platoons with our divisions) and according to Bradley they are doing well.

In summary, the talk on my father's experience as a Montford Point Marine at our local library is a beginning. Photos used conveyed the spirit of African American men finally allowed to participate in combat. The brave soldiers also performed well which later led to significant socio-economic gains for African Americans as a result. 

Moreover, the next objective is to educate young people about the Montford Point Marines. Young people need to learn about the sacrifices made and not take advancement for granted. As noted in present day times from our continuous news cycle, discrimination is not going away.

 Knowing history helps young people master their future.

Finally, in the interest of transparency, there is a long-term oversight that I need to address concerning Montford Point Marines and Honor Blog. What do you think the glaring omission is that requires at least two posts? Don't forget to share this post and become a follower! 


See Also:
African American Migration: Dad Chooses Connecticut
My Father's Story on the Montford Point Marines and the 51st Defense Battalion
Roger Smith Captured Iconic Images of Montford Point Marines

Saturday, April 12, 2014

William Scott: African American Photographer of the Holocaust

My last post discussed the Office of War Information and how photographer Roger Smith captured iconic images of Montford Point Marines. His pictures displayed young, agile African American men training at boot camp at Montford Point, New River, NC. The pictures were groundbreaking because the United States Marine Corps finally permitted Negros to join their ranks. The two century long ban was lifted.

There was no mention of discrimination or any of the difficulties the enlistees might have endured. The propaganda policy of the Office of War made sure of that. I recently showed my father some Montford Point Marines pictures on the Internet. "You never told me you went to chapel," I teased. "Maybe I'm in some of those pictures, " he offered. "I'll see if I can print them out for you." I announced.

An article from the Detroit Free Press depicted members of the Montford Point Marines Association with actual prints from a special exhibit of Roger Smith photos. The elderly gentlemen were excited about seeing the images, and talked about marching around the Montford Point tower in the hot North Carolina sun. They jokingly shared how mean drill instructor Sargent Major Gilbert "Hashmark" Johnson was and how he had to be tough in order to make men out of them.

Roger Smith's photographs of valiant Montford Point Marines undoubtedly inspired young African American men to enlist and fight for the cause. Of course, as many Montford Point Marines can attest, some racists resented them in Marine uniforms. One Black Marine was even arrested for impersonating a Marine, according to* Roger Smith's photos proudly represented the Montford Point Marines at their best. 

 Smith had a contemporary by the name of William Alexander Scott III. William Scott also took photographs during World War II and happened to be African American. His family owned the Atlanta Daily World, an African American newspaper. Scott was drafted into the Army while a student at Morehouse College. William Scott is famous for shooting photographs of liberators of concentration camps and Holocaust victims.

William Scott was an African American Photographer of the Holocaust

The irony of the situation can not be overstated. Scott was a member of an oppressed group from the United States covering the Holocaust at a concentration camp. According to Professor Jerry Legge in The Dade County Sentinel, some of the laws that lead to the mass genocide of Jews began with the following:

 In the 1930s Hitler’s laws began to limit or revoke their “Germanhood.” Jews were kicked out of civil service jobs, Jewish doctors were forbidden to practice, and Jewish professors were fired from German universities.Then the Nuremberg laws of September 1935 spelled out with neat German precision what rights the Jews must forfeit. They couldn’t go to the same parks, pools or schools as “regular” Germans, and there must be no intermarriage between Jews and the Master Race. In 1939 Jews were forced into segregated ghettos. (Excerpt from speech given by Dr. Jerry Legge)

Do any of these discriminatory laws seem familiar? Note the parallels with Jim Crow laws and Nuremberg laws. William Scott's segregated Black Army unit marched with General Patton's 3rd Army. He was one of the first soldiers to enter Buchenwald. I think the best way to convey the enormity of William Scott's arrival is to read it in his own poignant words:

I took out my camera and began to take some photos, but that only lasted for a few pictures. As the scenes became more gruesome, I put my camera in its case and walked in a daze with the survivors as we viewed all forms of dismemberment of the human body. We learned that 31,000 of the 51,000 persons there had been killed in a two-week period prior to our arrival. An SS trooper had remained until the day of our arrival; survivors had captured him. As he tried to flee over a fence, he was taken into a building, and two men from my unit followed. They said he was trampled to death by the survivors.I began to realize why few, if any, people would believe the atrocities I had seen. HOLOCAUST was the word used to describe it, but one has to witness it to even begin to believe it. And finally, after going through several buildings with various displays — lampshades of human skin, incinerators choked with human bones, dissected heads and bodies, testes in labeled bottles, so that they could be seen by the victims on a shelf by the door as they went in and out of the barracks (after two weeks of this procedure, they would be killed, but we arrived before this ritual could be continued) — my mind closed the door on this horror.- Atlanta Daily World, April 22, 2013

Photos below:**
Deceased bodies of Holocaust victims.

Roger Smith and William Scott were two notable World War II photographers who documented World War II and left an indelible impression on viewers. Smith was a civilian employed by the Office of War Information. His pictures provided permanent visuals of the patriotism and the inclusion of all Americans.

 William Scott served in the Army and his first hand account showed us the horrors and the inhumanity of a war machine gone mad. Scott's Holocaust images are stark reminders that genocide and discrimination must not exist. Both photographers gave us a close look at the military and war in ways that the world will never forget.

 Source:  Augusta Chronicle
Witness to the Holocaust Exhibit, Georgia

What are your feelings when you see some of these photos? 

Please share! Follow the Montford Point Marines and Honor Blogspot on Pinterest for more photos!

Sources: Augusta Chronicle
Atlanta Daily World
Chess Drum
Dade County Sentinel
Detroit Free Press*
Witness to the Holocaust

Notes:** "American troops, including African American soldiers from the Headquarters and Service Company of the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, 8th Corps, US 3rd Army, view corpses stacked behind the crematorium during an inspection tour of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Among those pictured is Leon Bass (the soldier third from left). Buchenwald, Germany, April 17, 1945."  From United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

See Also:

Alfred Masters Becomes The First Black Marine Inducted Into The Armed Service
Photographer Roger Smith Captured Iconic Images of Montford Point Marines

Oral History Interview with William Scott

Friday, April 4, 2014

Photographer Roger Smith Captured Iconic Images of Montford Point Marines

Happy Friday Readers! Things are moving along at Montford Point Marines and Honor Blogspot. Additional people are committed in helping me spread the news about these remarkable men and my dad's story. I will explain that in detail soon. 

In today's world we have the Internet, where information can be transmitted with the touch of a button. However, in the 1940s, there was no Internet. Televisions were years away from being a permanent fixture in Americans homes. As a result, the primary way to get visual images out to the masses was print media.  

Magazines and newspapers contained photos to get Americans behind the war effort. These images were well conceived and powerful. Who was responsible for creating these images that motivated people to enlist in the armed forces? 

The Office of War Information was established six months after Pearl Harbor on June 13, 1942. The goal was to drum up support for the military and document members of the armed forces. It used propaganda to "inspire patriotic fervor in the American public." The OWI also covered social change such as women in the work force and the inclusion of African Americans in the military.

 In the case of the Montford Point Marines, Office of War Information photographer Roger Smith was responsible for many of the photos during World War II. You have seen these iconic images in most of the Montford Point Marines stories in the media. The photos have been continuously posted here on this blog.

Now you know the name of the man behind the lens. Here are some of Smith's images below:

Montford Point Marines in front of Barracks at Boot Camp

Montford Point Marines leaving chapel on the base.


Montford Point Marines in training.
51st Defense Battalion

Montford Marines in formation.

 Thousands of Smith's photographs can be found on the Internet today. Others are physically stored in archives such as the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Roger Smith captured some of the most enduring images of African Americans during the war. His works have been displayed in exhibits and reproduced in books and other Montford Point Marines materials. He is clearly a photographer that I will explore in the future.

 So if you run across a photograph of a Montford Point Marine during World War II, it is more than likely taken by Office of War Information photographer Roger Smith. Now I am off to show my father pictures of his boot camp.

 Would any of these photos inspire you to join the war effort? Have you heard of Roger Smith before? What about the Office of War Information?

Please don't forget to share!

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