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 primary mission.
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.
The Montford Point Marines Museum is housed on the hallowed grounds of Montford Point Camp in the East Wing of building M101, Marine Corps Base, Camp Gilbert H. Johnson, Jacksonville, NC. The director of the Museum is Mr. Finney Greggs.
The museum is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:00am to 2:00pm, 4:00pm to 7:00 pm. Saturday 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. Call (910) 450-1340 to schedule viewings for groups. Staff on call for out of town visitors
The Marines of Montford Point
The Marines of Montford Point entered through its main gate as mere men of color, who had pride, courage and dedication. During the 1940s these men traveled a road that was not paved. They graduated to become Marines and brought the American people and the U.S. Marine Corps into a new era. Today many of the Marines who traveled through this groundbreaking period of American and Marine Corps history have contributed their life's successes to the pain, sacrifices, and rewards that were earned at Montford Point.
The acquisition committee of Montford Point Museum is currently and constantly seeking material for future displays. The first phase of the program is to seek specific material from WWII era Montford Point Marines and their families. Items include but are not limited to: photographs, diaries, personal and military objects, and other materials that reflect the lives, actions, and memories of original Montford Point Marines. Only items that spanned the specific years of 1942-1949 are needed for phase one.
If you have material that is needed for phase one there are two ways of contributing those items. The first way is as a permanent gift, and the second way is as a short term or long term loan. In all cases material will be handled with care, protection, and above all else with respect. Items gathered during these drives will be used by the museum and will be made available to historians, researchers, and the general public for the advancement of historical preservation and awareness.
When Turner Blount arrived in Jacksonville from his home in Kevsville, Georgia, in 1943, he was 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 drill instructors 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
As World War II raged, Americans stretched their resources to cover their country's wartime obligations. At home, women worked in factories and lived with rationing. Men fought from foxholes and ships, flew fighters, and assaulted foreign beaches.
But men and women of color — particularly African-Americans — were afforded little opportunity to contribute to the war effort. Although some of the armed services admitted blacks, they were mostly confined to supply and service specialties and often served in black-only units. Previously barred from serving in the Marine Corps, blacks gained entrance through an executive order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the urging of his wife, Eleanor, a human rights pioneer. Executive Order 8802 forced the commandant of the Marine Corps to admit blacks.
Black men jumped at the opportunity and lined up at the recruiters' offices. Many left the Navy or Army for a crack at the Corps. For some, like the Rev. Adner Batts Jr., the Marine Corps offered more than simply a chance to prove themselves as men, it also offered them a future."I was working at the commissioned officer's mess at Camp Lejeune and saw the posters to 'see the world,' and I had just lost my mother," Batts says. "I needed a job."
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 over scrapbooks.
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 Finney Greggs oversees the growing collection of memorabilia and photographs. In addition, the MPMA is cooperating with documentary filmmakers from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on a project soon to be released.
Montford Point Marines Museum Building M101, East Wing
Marine Corps Base
Camp Gilbert H. Johnson
Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.2 p.m. and 4 p.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Groups may schedule visits by calling 1910) 450-1340.