Story and Photos by Zamariah Strozier Data News Weekly Contributor
To be silenced means to be unknown. To speak means to tell the story. On Feb. 9, 2023, Dr. Cameron McCoy spoke with Dr. John M. Curatola in a conversation at the World War II Museum at the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion in New Orleans about “The Men of Montford Point and the Crisis of Jim Crow.” The event recognized the Montford Point Marines, the first Black Marines, for their service in the mid and late-1900s in World War II.
“Their story is that critical – one thing that I highlight is that they are products of the Great Depression,” said McCoy, an Alumnus and Professor at Brigham Young University who has taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Air Force Academy. McCoy serves as an Infantry Officer in the Marine Corps Reserve, and has written about the Montford Point Marines in “Contested Valor: African American Marines in the Age of Power, Protest, and Tokenism.”
“It sparked in me an opportunity really to pursue at least this course of military history, that I felt you shouldn’t be 20 something years old and finding this out,” McCoy said.
McCoy goes into detail about how many people do not know of the first Black Marines in the Marine Corp to be officially sworn in. The Black men of Montford Point were those men, he said. They had experienced the emotional and mental state of what it meant to be a Black man in America fighting for a country that did not recognize them as human beings. They did not receive medals and badges or statements of commemoration for their achievements and fighting in the war, he said.
However, they proved through perseverance, optimism, and resilience that they could not be forgotten. Making history was more important than giving up, McCoy told the audience at the Black History Month Event at the World War II Museum. Change was the bigger picture in everything, as racism and segregation were part of a social commentary and American life at that time.
“In Cameron’s book, he very articulately talks about what’s called the seven rules of the Jim Crow South, which I’m a historian, I had never heard this,” said Dr. John M. Curatola, a former Marine Officer, Military Historian and Author who joined McCoy in the conversation.
The laws of Jim Crow muted freedom of speech, pursuit of happiness, and rights to basic human knowledge for African Americans, McCoy shared. As they were easily dismissed, thrown to the sidelines, and given the chance to join the Marines, they were still seen as disposable. McCoy said the book publicly honors the Black men and families of the Montford Point Marine Corps, one story at a time, paying tribute to those still here today and those that have passed on.
“They broke barriers. They were presented the Congressional Gold medals. It stretched way further than just their contributions in the military as very productive citizens and their careers afterwards,” said Jackie Robinson, Sr., the President of the National Montford Point Marine Association, Inc. Granville Alexander Chapter 7 in New Orleans.