The Marine Corps celebrates the nationwide observance of African American/Black History Month throughout February.
MARADMIN 033/20 encourages commanders to hold observance events within their commands and local communities to recognize and celebrate the service and contributions of military, veteran and civilian African Americans.
Origins of the observance date back to 1915 with the foundation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History.” The association proclaimed the first Negro History Week in February 1926, which evolved into the current month-long observance.
This year’s theme – “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future” – allows the Marine Corps to honor its African American history while recognizing the ongoing contributions to the success and development of our nation.
“The Marine Corps brags about being the finest fighting force on the face of the Earth and I believe we can lay claim to that because of our diversity,” said retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. and former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. “You want a diversity of ideas and you get that from a variety of different people. Unfortunately, that’s a reason we celebrate African American History Month because things weren’t always as they should be.”
Approximately 20,000 men enlisted in the Marine Corps from 1942 -1949 and attended segregated boot camp at Montford Point Camp, Jacksonville, North Carolina. These men, known as the “Montford Point Marines,” made countless contributions during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War while still battling adversity on the home front.
“We were fighting two wars,” said Private First Class Jubal W. Patterson (1924-2011), who enlisted in 1943, attended boot camp at Montford Point and served in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“I was there fighting a war against the Japanese and fighting another war with my own country on how they treated blacks during that time,” said Patterson. “Let’s just say there was no homecoming parade in my neighborhood.”
The Marine Corps commemorates the sacrifices made by the Montford Point Marines, as their struggles helped pave the way for future service members of all backgrounds and beliefs, men and women alike. Diversity, then viewed a weakness, is perceived today as one of our nation’s greatest strengths.
“Being a first is always an honor,” said Patterson. “Despite the mentality during that time, I can honestly say that Montford Point, personally, it made me a better person. Of all the experiences I’ve been through, being a Marine was the best decision I ever made. Even with the segregation, it gave me the skills to be successful and I’m honored to have been there to be one of the firsts.”
This month, the Marine Corps reflects on the selfless service of the African Americans in the past, honors the continuous contributions of those in the present, and celebrates the ability to serve with those to come in the future.