MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. --
Members of the Cherry Point community gathered for a celebration commemorating the Montford Point Marines, the first blacks allowed into the Marine Corps, at the air station theater Friday.
Until 1942, the Marine Corps practiced a discriminatory policy, refusing to allow African Americans into their ranks and making them the last of all the military branches to finally do so. The policy wasn’t changed until more than two decades after they began allowing women to join their elite ranks.
On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802; the elimination of racial discrimination from federal departments, agencies and the military. From 1942 to 1949, more than 20,000 black men trained on the hallowed grounds of Montford Point.
“These men came from all walks of life and they all came for different reasons, but the common denominator is they wanted to serve their country,” said guest speaker Sgt. Maj. Christopher G. Robinson, the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing sergeant major. “They wanted to do it honorably. They wanted to do it as Marines.”
Among the distinguished guests in the crowd was retired Master Sgt. Johnnie Thompkins Jr., one of the first African Americans to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Before enlisting, Thompkins said he was hesitant about going into the Corps.
“I went to the recruiter and said, “Listen, I’ve got to go some place,’” he said. “The recruiter said, ‘How about the Marine Corps?’ and I said, ‘Oh no, those boys are too tough.’”
Thompkins recalled enduring hardships and prejudices during his time in the service but said he did not let those obstacles stop him. He retired after serving more than 20 years in the Marines.
“They are ordinary men who were faced with extraordinary circumstances at a time when the Marine Corps was the only branch of service that refused to enlist African-Americans,” said Robinson. “Throughout the struggle came a unique group of men who hold a very special place in the Marine Corps and also in our nation’s history.”