The year was 1941; our country was still overcoming the severe economic conditions of the Great Depression and racial segregation was widespread throughout the nation. At the time, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wanted to create fair employment practices for the United States Armed Forces and decided to integrate the American military.
He issued Executive Order 8802 on June 25, 1941, which prohibited all racial discrimination in the Armed services.
From its inception until 1941, the Marine Corps refused to recruit African Americans and other minorities. The executive order forced the Corps, despite objections from its leadership, to begin recruiting African American Marines in 1942.
In early 1942, the Marine Corps established a camp in Montford Point, N.C., as a recruit depot to train African-American Marine recruits. The sum of $750,000 was alloted to construct and enlarge temporary barracks and supporting facilities for the segregated Montford Point Camp adjacent to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Recruiting began on June 1, 1942. Alfred Masters became the first African American to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. Shortly thereafter, more than 900 other African Americans enlisted.
The first Marines’ arrived at Montford Point on August 26, 1942. Between 1942 and 1949, approximately 20,000 recruits received basic training at Montford Point, most of them going on to serve in the Pacific during World War II as members of support units.
During the early years at Montford Point, segregation still played a huge role. The Montford Point Marines were not allowed into neighboring all-white camps without being accompanied by a white Marine. However, in 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, ending color bias in the American armed forces. Montford Point was deactivated as a recruit training depot in 1949.
The Montford Point Marines are hailed as important figures in American history, because they willingly fought to protect a nation that still did not offer them basic civil rights. Their actions set the precedent for the Corps, and their legacy continues within the Marines who serve today.