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Black History: Montford Marines

In the era of segregation there was only one place black marines could train for the corps and it was right here in eastern Carolina.

Blacks were not allowed to serve in the corps in 1940. But an executive order signed by president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941, allowed blacks to enlist. Instead of traveling to boot camps at Parris Island, South Carolina and San Diego, California, they trained at Montford Point-- aboard Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

"Those men were gallant men and they passed on to me," said Finney Greggs.

Greggs joined the marine corps in the 60s after integration and well after 20-thousand African-American men received training at Montford Point from 1942- 1949. Greggs now manages the Montford Point museum.

"I met some and they would sit down and talk with me about how it used to be. They would tell me how to do all I can to help hold together what they accomplished."

The original plan was for the Montford men to be discharged after World War II, but they hoped for more.

"This is not always going to be this way, and that's what one of them who sat down and talked with me said. That's some of things they instilled in me," said Greggs

While the Montford Marines faced enemies overseas, they also fought for equality here at home. In 1955, Edgar Huff overcame adversity to become the corps' first black marine sergeant major.

"He was probably one of the most immaculate marines... uniform perfect." said Phil Kartcheske who trained at Camp Lejeune, under sergeant major Huff.

"When I came here in '55 it was still divided, I mean segregation was not what it was before that, but Jacksonville was divided at that time. So you see someone like him that come as far as he did, that's a good sign," said Kartcheske.

46 years later, Karcheske still remembers clearly what it was like. He could fight side by side with black marines, but he couldn't sit down with them in a restaurant off base.

"I think it was Sgt. Major Huff. I think one of his famous sayings is the only color in my outfit is green," said Kartcheske

United States Marine Corps green was the only color they believed mattered on the battlefield. In 1974, Montford Point Camp was renamed Camp Johnson, in honor of the late Sergeant Major, Gilbert "hashmark" Johnson. Johnson was one of the first African Americans to join the corps. The camp remains the only marine corps installation named in honor of an African American.


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