In August of 1942, the first African American enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. For the next seven years, roughly 20,000 African Americans fought through prejudice and oppression to earn the title Marine at Montford Point while defending their country in the middle of World War II.

Montford Point was renamed Camp Johnson in 1974 in honor of retired Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson, the first African American man to attain the rank of sergeant major..

Camp Johnson is now the historic landmark where veterans of Montford Point, service members and civilians gather together annually to memorialize the anniversary on Aug. 26, the day the original African-American recruits began their Marine Corps training at Montford Point.

In 2010, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Sen. Roland Burris of Illinois co-authored Senate Resolution 587, which designates Aug. 26 as Montford Point Marines Day.

A reception followed the ceremony where attendees had the opportunity to meet the Montford Point Marines like James L. Spann, as well as other members of Montford Point Memorial Association.

“It goes a long way for the African American Marines,” said Spann, a retired Master Gunnery Sgt. from Jacksonville, North Carolina. “This is the first year I’ve been able to attend, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to come and speak.”

After his experience at Montford Point, Spann said the goal of this ceremony is to continue the legacy of Montford Point’s past and to honor it in the future.

“I want today’s Marines to know that the Marines of Montford Point have come a long way since the years of World War II,” said Spann. “Back then, it was good and bad. We came, and we didn’t know what to expect.”

Spann added that educating the people of today begins with formally recognizing the legacy of Montford Point and every person that trained there.

For more information about the Montford Point Marine Association, visit montfordpointmarines.org.