The Montford Point Marines, who made up the first Black Marine unit that served in the Pacific during World War II, will finally be honored for their courage and service. Just before the Marine Corps’ 236th anniversary celebrated Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted late Wednesday to award them the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian award bestowed by Congress.
The long-overdue recognition is largely due to the efforts of Rep. Corinne Brown (D-Florida) and Sen. Kay Hagan (R-North Carolina), who introduced the legislation in their respective chambers. The House passed its bill on Oct. 25.
Reuben McNair, who almost lost his life in Korea, witnessed the House vote alongside four of his fellow marines, all now in their 80s.
“I never dreamed this day would come forward. I thought they’d work on it maybe 10 years from now, but I’d be gone and never know about it,” he said.
Blacks, or coloreds as they were known back then, were admitted to the Marine Corps in 1941 as a result of an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order established the Fair Employment Practices Commission and banned employment discrimination in the defense industries and government based on race, creed, color or national origin.
Nearly 20,000 Black Marines were trained at the segregated Montford Point training camp near Jacksonville, North Carolina, between 1942 and 1949. Although the Army’s Buffalo Soldiers and the Air Force’s Tuskegee Airmen have received a lot of attention over the years, the Black marines were overlooked.
Brown said that the bill corrects an injustice and demonstrates what can be achieved when Republicans and Democrats work together.
“They answered our nation’s call at a time when our society was deeply divided along racial lines. As such, many of their contributions went unrecognized and many times they were not given the respect and recognition they deserved as marines, as Americans and as patriots,” the Black lawmaker said. “The gold medal will forever anchor their role in the history of our nation’s great military.”