CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan --
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order #8802 that required all branches of the military to enlist African-Americans. The U.S. Marine Corps was the last branch to yield to the orders of Roosevelt, but from Aug. 26, 1942, to November 1949, history was made as the first 20,000 African-Americans trained to become Marines at Montford Point Camp, Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Retired Sgt. Ivor Griffin was born on April 14, 1927, and was one of those Marines to make history. In 1945 at the age of 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and conquered the segregated basic training at Montford Point. Griffin went on to serve for 20 years.
“Within four weeks of registering for the draft, I was called in to answer the call,” said Griffin, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “I had faced prejudiced individuals in my hometown growing up, but I was nowhere near prepared for the segregation I would be encountering.”
Shortly after World War II, racial segregation within the military was prohibited by an executive order signed by President Harry S. Truman. The fight for equality was long from over as full integration would not happen until 1960, but it was a large step in the right direction.
“One of the hardest things during that time was how we were segregated from everything to bus stops to entire battalions,” said Griffin. “I really started to feel the pressure of being segregated when I got on the bus for boot camp. The bus driver told me to get in the back, and one of the black passengers encouraged me to do it to avoid conflict.”
There are around 400 Montford Point Marines still living today. On the third Saturday of every month, Griffin meets up with fellow Montford Point Marines. They spend time together volunteering, participating in charity work and sharing memories, to ensure that the history they embody is never forgotten.
Now, Montford Point has been renamed in honor of retired Sgt. Maj. Gilbert “Hashmark” Johnson. Johnson, a Montford Point Marine, was one of the first African-Americans to be trained as a Marine Corps drill instructor and the only other African-American sergeant major to serve during World War II, along with retired Sgt. Maj. Edgar Huff.
Griffin’s legacy pushes on as his granddaughter, 1st Lt. Ashleigh Fairow, continues her family’s historic military background as the Communication Strategy and Operations officer with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. A native of Jacksonville, North Carolina, Fairow became a commissioned officer in 2019 after earning a Bachelor of Science in English Studies and graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy at the age of 23.
“No matter what I decided to do with my future, my family was going to be proud of me,” said Fairow. “I had many influences and positive reinforcements in my life guiding me in my decision to join the Marine Corps, but ultimately the choice was up to me.”
Fairow explained that to her, Montford Point Day is special not only because of her family heritage, but for the efforts that were made and are still being made for African-American Marines. She said it is important to remember how much we have changed as a Corps, and how much we can still change.
In 2010, the U.S. Senate designated Aug. 26 to be recognized as Montford Point Day. For Griffin, it is a reminder of the brave sacrifices made by those Marines that answered the call despite the monumental social obstacles.
“I encourage African-American Marines to remember how we paved the way for the future,” said Griffin. “If you think about it, the 1940s were not that long ago. We’ve come a long way, and I never want our history to be forgotten.”