The United States celebrates February as Black History Month by recognizing the many contributions made by African-Americans throughout history.
Although blacks were brought to America as slaves, many African-Americans contributed to the foundation of American society. One of the most prestigious contributions included serving as Marines.
“We didn’t learn much about black history growing up,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony L. Jackson, Marine Corps Installations West commanding general. “But, we did learn how slaves help to build America.”
Although the Marine Corps would not officially accept African-Americans until World War II, a few documented blacks did serve as Marines on land and aboard ships during the American Revolution, according to the book, “African-Americans in the Revolutionary War” by Army Lt. Col. Michael Lee Lanning.
A total of 13 veterans from that era are identified on the Marine Corps’ roster as black.
At least one black Marine by the name of John Martin died in action, aboard the brig Reprisal in 1777.
Martin was a slave who was recruited into the Continental service without his owner’s knowledge in April 1776, according to an article in the “Black Collegian.”
After America earned its independence, it would be more than 150 years before backs were officially allowed to join the Corps.
The country was still segregated during that time. Therefore, the first official black Marines trained separate from other recruits at Montford Point Camp, N.C., from 1942 until President Truman signed an executive order to force full integration of the United States in 1949. A total of 20,000 blacks trained at the camp.
Today, African-Americans represent approximately 11 percent of the Marine Corps, according to a recent demographic profile of the U. S. military.
The U.S. Census Bureau most recent report shows that 12.8 percent of the U.S. population is made up of black Americans. Therefore, African-Americans are well represented in the Corps today.
“Over the time I have served, I’ve been able to witness the Marine Corps diversify, especially in the senior enlisted ranks,” said Jackson. “When I first joined in 1975 there were no black generals.”
Today, Jackson is one of four major generals and approximately 27 percent of the Marine Corps sergeants major are black.
“I feel proud to be part of an organization that is always striving to do the right thing,” said Jackson, who has served 35 years.
America has made many strides towards equality; from the uncomfortable truth of having slaves that served, to now having a black commander-in-chief.
“The creation of Black History Month helped to sensitize the whole nation that African-Americans have a role in society,” said Jackson.
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