Luther Hendricks was just a teenager when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. He says he was determined to fight to save his country from the enemy.
“Once President Roosevelt declared war, I went down the next day to the recruiting station to join up, and I was told they didn’t take coloreds in the Marines,” Hendricks said.
But as the war effort ramped up, the armed services began following an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to open all branches of the U.S. armed forces to African Americans. Hundreds of Black enlistees were accepted into the Marine Corps, though they were segregated from white troops.
White Marines were trained at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Black men went through grueling training at nearby Montford Point.
“We weren’t allowed to go train with the white Marines, which was just across the street from us at Camp Lejeune,” Hendricks said. “We weren’t allowed to go over there unless we had a white officer to go with us.”
At Montford Point, servicemen like Hendricks endured substandard conditions and racism.
“We were always talked of as ‘boy,’ ‘colored people,’ ‘you people,'” Hendricks said. “Never… a man or a person, you know.”
But Hendricks and his fellow Marines were not deterred.
More than six decades later, Hendricks and his fellow Montford Point Marines were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
“In the time of these Marines — in the age of inequality, breaking the color barrier in the Marine Corps took nothing less than perseverance, patriotism and courage of extraordinary proportions,” said California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi during the ceremony.