The Montford Point Marine Museum was established to preserve the legacy of the Montford Point Marines. To collect, record, preserve and display, in a museum setting for
public education and viewing, the largest collection of photographs, documents, papers, and artifacts, forever capturing the unique history of African American Marines from 1942 to 1949, this is our
In additional to the museum primary mission, the role of the museum is to display memories of the past and show the public how significant those experiences have influenced
events of today, for the next generation.
Published on Nov 15, 2010
http://www.unctv.org/WWII | NORTH CAROLINA's WORLD WAR II EXPERIENCE is an original documentary from UNC-TV exploring the important role North Carolina and its
citizens played in the second World War. In this excerpt, Hubert Poole from Raleigh, NC, shares his experience in boot camp at the only African-American Marine base in the country, NC's own Montford
When Turner Blount arrived in Jacksonville from his home in Kevsville, Georgia, in 1943, hewas one of the first African-Americans allowed in the Marine Corps. At
that time, the Corps established a separate basic training camp for blacks at Montford Point. None of the nearly 20,000 black recruits who went through basic training from 1942 through 1949 were
welcomed by the city or their fellow Marines. White drillinstructors turned the first groups of black recruits into Marines. After that, black Dis took over, and they made the white DIs seem mellow.
"The black Marine leaders instilled in us that we had to prove ourselves," says Blount. Their survival hinged on their toughness and ability to shrug off the idea that because their skin color was
different, they didn't belong in the Corps. When Blount reported for training, he stood prepared to fight, and, if necessary, to die for his country. But he still couldn't cross the railroad tracks
in nearby Jacksonville. It hurt to be kept out, but Blount could handle small indignities on his way to his ultimate goal — to become a U.S. Marine. He would stay on his side of the tracks if it
meant one day wearing the Corps' eagle, globe, and anchor insignia.
Looking to the future
Batts, originally from Edgecombe and now a resident of Hampstead, joined in 1948. Marine boot camp had a reputation for weeding out the weak, and Batts says the truck carrying him
and fellow black recruits to Montford Point emphasized that point by pulling up next to a small cemetery near the post. The driver made the passengers line up outside. "He said to us, 'These are the
ones who didn't make it,' " Batts remembers. While the cemetery didn't really hold failed recruits, the new guys got the message: Boot camp was rough; boot camp for black Marines was rougher still.
Batt says many Camp Lejeune Marines had little exposure to African- Americans, which made life more difficult. Whenever black recruits interacted with white Marines, they walked on eggshells, even
during sporting competitions. The slightest perceived insult would be enough to send a black recruit packing. "When we went to play ball with them, we had to be sure we didn't hurt anyone," Batts
remembers."We swallowed our pride and had to take a lot. But if we hadn't, there wouldn't be any black Marines."
The bare necessities
Melvin Borden, who also joined the Marine Corps in 1948, says he became a leatherneck because he wasn't afraid of hard labor — he'd worked all of his life. The Alabama native and
retired serviceman, who now lives in Jacksonville, says the segregated Corps provided a challenge. "I grew up on a farm and worked in the fields," Borden says. "They didn't cut you no slack, but I
didn't mind. I was used to it." And he and other recruits found they had to get used to a few other things they hadn't counted on. Johnnie Thompkins Jr., of New Bern, remembers going hungry during
basic training. Montford Point has its own mess hall, but, Thompkins says, much of the food allocated the black mess hall would simply disappear. "We got to the mess hall sometimes, and there wasn't
enough food to go around." In the winter, the Montford Point recruits often trained at Stone Bay Rifle Range. While white Marines had steam heat in their brick buildings, the black recruits kept warm
in old stone houses using coal- burning stoves. When Thompkins' unit arrived at Stone Bay, they found no coal. "They had some, but they'd used up their allotment, so we had to go out and find broken
branches and cut down trees to keep warm," Thompkins says. Thompkins joined the service following two years of college at Winston-Salem State University and had planned to enter the Coast Guard.
He ended up in the Marine Corps instead and stayed for 23 years, earning both advancement and the respect of the white Marines with whom he worked. "We really proved that the color
of a man doesn't make any difference," Thompkins says. "It's what's in his heart."
Fighting to stay in
Henry McNair says that back in the old days, when a Marine recruit didn't like what was being dished out; he couldn't "call his mama or his congressman." The Dillon, South
Carolina, native decided to enlist in the Marine Corps to prove to himself he could do it. For him, the gauntlet was thrown down when he was a kid and a friend, the son of a Marine who was also a
Cherokee Indian, told him blacks couldn't be Marines. In 1945, McNair proved him wrong. Black Marines served primarily in combat support roles or as stewards, although some did see action during
World War II. When the war ended, the Marines began discharging blacks.
Museum artifacts (top) include historical photographs and uniforms (left). Above: Master Sgt. Johnnie Thompkins Jr., left, and Master Sgt. Adner Batts Jr. (both retired) reminisce
To Know More
In 1965, the Montford Point Marines Association was formed to reunite former and active-duty Marines trained at Montford Point. Following a reunion, the group launched chapters all
over the country and in Japan. MPMA members recognized that their legacy stood in danger of being forgotten as Montford veterans began to age. Not wanting their struggle to fade into the pages of
history, they established a museum to preserve their story. The Montford Point Marines Museum is housed at today's Camp Johnson. Director Tikishia C. Smiley oversees the growing collection of
memorabilia and photographs.