The first African Americans to serve in the Marines will receive the Congressional Gold Medal. President Obama may sign the legislation as early as Veterans Day, one day after the 236th anniversary of the Marine Corp.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award given by Congress. The first African American U.S. Marines were trained at Montford Point, North Carolina, from 1942 to 1949, segregated from the rest of the military. On March 29, 2007, the first Black aviators in the U.S military, the Tuskegee Airman, received the Congressional Gold Medal.
Over 19,000 African Americans served in the Marine Corps in World War II. In 1948 President Harry Truman ended segregation in the military and in 1949 the Montford Marine Camp was closed after seven years of segregation. The Marine Corp was the last branch of the military to integrate in 1951.
Rep. Corrine Brown offered the resolution to grant the Montford Point Marines the Congressional Gold Medal; her resolution passed the House on October 25.
“It’s a real honor. They are the only branch that have not received it. The Marines were the last group to integrate,” Brown said after her resolution passed the House. Even in a slow Congress known for contentious partisanship Brown’s resolution passed the House and Senate within six months. “I really sped it up when I realized the Marines were celebrating 235 years on Novemeber 10. We knew it would be a wonderful tribute to these men. They deserve to see it, so we fast-tracked it.”
When asked how many of the Montford Marines are still alive, Brown said, “I don’t know, but I met 8 recently. There were 20,000 of them. [Rep.] Bennie Thompson asked me how many there were from Mississippi so I will get that information and find out how many are still alive in different areas.”
Brown was quick to mention the bipartisanship involved in the effort. When speaking about Republican Rep. Allen West, Brown said, “He worked it. It was completely bipartisan. It was beautiful really. I’m not trying to take credit for it. The NY delegation worked the NY delegation, the California worked theirs — and they worked across party lines. It was a beautiful thing to see how it came together.”
Brown also credits the Republican Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Rep. Spencer Bacchus of Alabama, who fast tracked her resolution and made it so that no hearing or markup was required. Reps. Ander Crenshaw and Rep. West also pushed. Sen. Kay Hagen of North Carolina moved the resolution through the Senate.
Black Marines landed at Iwo Jima on D-Day in 1945. The largest number of Black Marines to serve in combat in World War II was in Okinawa where 2,000 Black Marines saw action.
“This is a wonderful victory for people who need to be recognized and deserve it and I’m just privileged to be a part of it,” Sen. Bill Nelson said.
The Congressional Gold Medal recipients will be honored next week on November 16, as Apollo Astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin are honored in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.