The Jacksonville community gathered at the Lejeune Memorial Gardens Thursday morning to honor the legacy of Montford Point Marines.
In 1942, President Roosevelt allowed African Americans to be recruited into the Marine Corps.
John Spencer was one of nearly 20,000 African Americans who served in the Marine Crops during 1942-1949.
“We went through a lot of trials and tribulations, but it made better men out of us,” said the 92-year-old.
Compared to other Marines, African Americans were not sent to traditional boot camps. They were stationed at Montford Point, a segregated camp, now known as Camp Johnson.
“We were American citizens, but African Americans,” said Spencer.
The veteran recalls the challenges and color barriers Montford Point Marines faced.
“We couldn’t walk the streets and we couldn’t be on this side of the railroad,” said Spencer.
But Spencers’ efforts paved the way for many including retired Colonel for the U.S. Marine Corps Grover Lewis III.
“I had the distinction of being the first African American C.O. of that camp at that time period,” said Lewis.
President Harry Truman signed an executive order desegregating the United States Armed Forces in July 1974. A year later Montford Marine Camp was deactivated.
It was an end to segregation on base and an opportunity for African Americans to move forward.
“It changed from we don’t want you, we don’t need you, to you are a part of us and you always will be,” said Spencer.
In April 1974 Montford Point Camp was renamed, Camp Johnson. The name honors one of the first African Americans to join the Marine corps.
The camp remains the only Marine Corps installation named in honor of an African American.