MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. – Each February, Americans pause to celebrate the men and women who fought against discrimination, segregation and injustice to achieve equality and create change in the United States.
National African American History Month is a time for Americans to commemorate the achievements of African Americans and the crucial role they play in the United States, including those in the armed forces.
According to Staff Sgt. Joseph M. Scott, the equal opportunity advisor for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., it is important to acknowledge, understand and celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans, especially those who fought for civil rights.
“As we know, it is the content of our character, our individual merits, fitness and abilities, which should be viewed in relation to our societal contributions, not our race,” said Scott. “As a nation, we discounted the accomplishments of African Americans by judging the outward appearance. It is important now to extol those achievements in light of our current understanding of why diversity makes us stronger and who we are as Americans.”
African Americans have a long history of service in the Corps. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an Executive Order in 1942, during the early days of WWII, which opened the Corps’ ranks to African Americans.
“Celebrating this month motivates me to achieve more by reminding me of trailblazers like the Montford Point Marines; Marines who stood in the face of adversity and proved they had a fighting spirit,” said Scott. “They were able to show that African Americans have the ability to fight in every clime and place with just as much tenacity as anyone else. They proved patriotism and esprit de corps transcends skin color.”
African American Marines who enlisted into the Corps were sent to recruit training at Montford Point, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. The Montford Point Marines were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012 to recognize and honor the men who volunteered to defend freedom despite widespread racial divisions at the time.
In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981, establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces and the abolishment of segregated units and training facilities, which led to the deactivation of Montford Point in 1949.
“The Marine Corps has benefitted tremendously from the integration of minorities, to include women within its ranks,” said Scott. “When the Corps is able to reflect the diversity seen within our great nation, Americans will continue to support the Corps, especially during a time when the entire force is comprised of volunteers. As the second largest minority group, African Americans helped to build this nation and will continue to rise to the occasion to defend it.”
Story by Cpl. Grace L. Waladkewics