On June 25, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which stated that all men would be allowed to serve in the military “regardless of race, color, or creed.” Up until that moment, the Marines had refused the service of African Americans, even though the Army and Navy had been integrated since the Civil War.

Over the next year, at least eight brave African American men travelled from Key West to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to join the first Black Marines Corp in American history: Nathan “Joker” Tynes, James Hall, Charles “Bookie” Allen, Sr., Charles Manuel, Shedrack “Candyman” Hannibal, Jr., William “Boss” Johnson Sr., Clarence “Fly” Alce, Sr. and George Carey.

The Montford Point Marines were segregated, training at Montford Point — a facility at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where approximately 20,000 African American Marines received basic training between 1942 and 1949. There, they fought to rise in the ranks as segregation and racism remained prevalent in the South.

A trio of recruits in training
“A trio of recruits in training to take their places as fighting Leathernecks in the U.S. Marine Corps, run the rugged obstacle course at Camp Lejeune, NC [Montford Point Camp]. The Marine recruits have shown such excellent results in their aptitudes and leadership capacities that an expanded Navy recruiting program is now underway.” April 1943. Pat Terry. 127-N-5335. National Archives Identifier: 532514

Also known as the “Black Angels,” the Montford Point Marines went on to provide distinguished service in the Pacific Theater during World War II by performing a wide variety of assignments.

Honoring Their Legacy

The Montford Marines were a part of significant social change in the United States, but their battles at home and abroad weren’t officially honored until 2011, when President Obama awarded the last remaining Marines and their families the Congressional Gold Medal over 60 years later.

In 2015, City Commissioner Clayton Lopez and Mayor Craig Cates designated November 17th as Montford Point Marines Day in Key West, Florida.

Now, after years of research, Commissioner Lopez has announced the unveiling of the Montford Point Marines Memorial in the Bayview Park Memorial War Garden. This simply-stated granite podium, inscribed with the names of these local heroes, will stand to honor those Key West Veterans for years to come.

The ceremony will take place on Memorial Day — Monday, May 31, 2021 at 10:30 a.m., immediately following the laying of the wreaths in the Vietnam Memorial service. The Key West community is urged to attend this and the laying of the wreaths for those lost in Vietnam on this national day of remembrance.

More Black Heroes Throughout U.S. Military History

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