Point Montford was created as a segregated training unit for the first Black Marines from 1942 to 1945. Much of the facility no longer exists across a river from Camp Lejeune. But the Black Marines and other African American servicemen have worked for the past half four decades or so to have their history properly placed in the military history books. In 2007 President George W. Bush honored the Tuskegee Airmen with Presidential Honors. Carter watched the program on TV and asked himself, “What about us?” “What about all of the Black Marines who were the first to be trained and served under Jim Crow segregation,” said Carter. “The Buffalo soldiers, the Tuskegee Airmen and us – we paved the way for every other group who faced discrimination in the military. I thought we deserved to be honored, as well.” So Carter said he contacted other Point Montford Marines Alumni in Hampton Roads and elsewhere. He even lobbied at that time the President of the Point Montford Marine Association, Joseph H. Geeter, III, urging him to support the effort for a national award of recognition of some kind. After Geeter left that post, the current leader of the group, at the urging of Carter and other Point Montford Alumni kept pushing.
“This is long overdue. Yes, each one of them paved the way for today’s Marines – Black and White – to understand the importance of fighting for respect,” said Dr. James T. Averhart, Jr., who is not a member of the Montford Marine Alumni, but is President of the group’s national association. He lives in Virginia Beach. There are nine members of the original Point Montford Marine Association living in Hampton Roads. Each looked forward to attending the June 27 ceremony. Averhart has studied the history of the Point Montford completely.
He even went back and looked at the writing and the words of the white leaders of the Marine Corps who fought hard to keep Blacks out of the ranks of the Marine Corps. “During WWII, the corps was headed by Commandant Thomas Holcomb, who did not want Blacks in the organization,” said Averhart. “He said he would rather have 1,000 white Marines than 285,000 Black ones. He said that Blacks were trying to enter a club which did not want them.” Carter was born in New Bern, North Carolina and was well aware of Jim Crow and its impact on Blacks. He was aware that the Marine Corps was set against admitting Blacks, but the manpower shortage prodded the Roosevelt administration to do so.
Carter said he expected to be treated in accordance with the traditional anger that whites had harnessing toward Blacks since the end of the Civil War. He said he had worked with the Roosevelt Administration’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps which were run like a paramilitary outfit with the marching and drilling and marshal atmosphere so he knew about the rigors of the military routine. In April of 1943, Carter’s platoon of 43 Black men, led by all white officers and high ranking enlisted men, began training.
“We knew we were being tricked. We were instructed to carry around a big heavy barracks locker box, used to store our uniforms and gear,” said Carter. “As we marched, they told us to ‘locker box right shoulder, locker box left shoulder’. We did it. But we knew that was not right.” Carter recalled that there were highly educated Black men with doctorate degrees being trained at Point Montford. No Blacks were allowed to be commissioned or have high enlisted rankings to make sure they could not give orders to a white Marine.
After the 90 days of recruit training, many of the Port Montford Marines went into active military services, especially in the Pacific theater against Japanese forces. Others remained behind like Carter, who, instead of being in a fighting unit, volunteered for a “scrub” outfit stationed at Port Montford. He worked as a company clerk, where he applied his clerical skills including typing. He recalls that one of the lone Black sergeants at Point Montford, Gilbert Hashmark Jones, was court-martialed and reduced in rank “because he was too assertive and spoke up against the racism he saw.”
Jones is a historic figure, being one of the first Black enlisted training personnel at Montford. Carter said that instead of drumming Jones out of the corps, he was assigned to the administrative office where Carter taught him how to type and do clerical work. “I thought I was being smart by volunteering for the scrub unit,” said Carter. “But I later regretted it. I wanted to go and fight for my country and show them I was an American.”
Carter said that he was assigned to the 51st Fighting Division, the all-Black Marine Corps unit. He was dispatched to the Pacific staging site at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, but he never saw battle. He was shipped back home and after three years, three months and one day in the Marines,” he was back into the civilian world.
Once a civilian, he attended Hampton Institute and acquired skills as a master electrician. He worked at Langley Air Force Base for over four decades and raised and supported his family.
Like many of his generation, Carter used the G.I. Bill to secure an education, buy a home and raise his family.
“This is the ultimate honor,” said Carter. “I just wanted to be an American – not a Black American or a colored American – just an American to fight for my country and serve in the Marines and prove that I was an American.”