“Bullets don’t have no color,” says Master Gunnery Sgt. John Spencer, recalling the history of the Black Marines who blazed a path toward equal treatment long before President Harry Truman desegregated the US military in 1948.
Spencer is one of the legendary Black Americans who enlisted in the Marine Corps and trained at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order establishing the Fair Employment Practices Committee in June 1941.
“You were in the South in an outfit that didn’t believe that you could cut it, and they did everything in the world to make you say that I’m going to quit and I don’t want this Marine Corps,” Spencer says in a recent Marine Corps video. “Well, we had made up our minds that we wanted the Marine Corps, and that’s what we did.”
Camp Montford Point operated from Aug. 26, 1942, until the camp was decommissioned Sept. 9, 1949, according to the National Montford Point Marine Association.
“You had two Marine Corps at that time,” Spencer says. “You had the Marine Corps that was for the African American Marines, and you had the regular Marine Corps for the regular Marines. We were outsiders, and we were trying to break the color barrier, get into the fight with what we felt was the best fighting force the United States had, and we wanted to prove to ourselves that we were good enough to be one of them.”
The Montford Point Marines proved themselves in combat during the Pacific island-hopping campaigns of World War II, and the largest number of Black Marines to serve in combat during the war took part in the seizure of Okinawa.
With their blood, sweat, and tears, the Marines of Montford Point defeated the racist stereotypes that said Black men were not equal to whites and paved the way for future generations of Marine warriors.
Spencer’s story is one of many inspiring tales from these incredible, trailblazing warriors.