Local hero from a time that some regard as not important in U.S. history will receive a most deserving honor.
One of the last living veterans from Montford Point, America’s first Black Marines, will be recognized at 12 noon on February 6th at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center located at 2650 W Sistrunk Blvd, Fort Lauderdale , FL 33312.
George Jonson grew up on 5th Ave in the Colored section of Fort Lauderdale, FL. According to a close friend Earl Thomas, “George was one of the fastest running backs in the history of Dillard High School.
Mr. Thomas went on to say that “George did a lot of good things. He even went to FAMU (then it was Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes) with legendary Coach Herman Pittman and he hung out with Dr. Thomas Walker, also from Fort Lauderdale.
“George graduate in Dillard’s Class of 1942. He was a guard at the White House and a retired policeman from New York. Man George was cool back then, and he could dance.
“George left New York because of health reason of his wife and moved back to Fort Lauderdale.”
“I been around a long time,” said former U.S. Marine Cpl. George Johnson.
Documents prove Johnson was one of over 20,000 Montford Point Marines, the first group of Black men ever to join the Marine Corps.
The first African American Marine recruits arrived for basic training on August 26, 1942. Unlike white recruits who trained at Parris Island or San Diego, Black recruits were sent to a segregated training facility named Montford Point. Montford Point was located adjacent to Camp Lejeune. But, when compared to Camp Lejeune, the conditions at Montford Point were far from ideal. Additionally, Montford Point Marines continued to endure racism, not even being allowed to enter Camp Lejeune without being accompanied by a white Marine.
“(There) wasn’t too many of us there that had our, you know,” Johnson said while pointing to his hand to show his complexion.
“They knew they were the first to integrate, the Marine Corps, but they could not realize the significance of it at that time, so for 70 years they had been virtually ignored. I mean, kind of hidden figures,” Johnson’s cousin and caretaker, Grace King, said.
King saw Local 10’s story on the Montford Marines and the efforts of local advocate Mallorie Berger to find and identify them all.
“Everyone saw your segment on Friday and everyone is so excited about it,” King said. “It could not have been easy during the racism and given the things they had to do. It triggered something. I said, ‘Wow, I think George was there during that time.’”
And sure enough, he was. He even has the uniform, which he last donned as recently as 2018.
Local 10 helped King get in touch with Berger.
“I just was dumbfounded, and I’m shocked because to be in this man’s presence, this is like being in the presence of Prince or Michael Jackson. I mean, really, really,” Berger said.
Johnson was, at one point, a Marine police officer and recalls having to transport prisoners to America’s most notorious prison.
“I used to take guys to Alcatraz,” he said.
It’s rare to find a living Montford Point Marine. Those still around are in their 90s or older. Time is running out to honor them with a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded collectively to the Montford Point Marines in 2012.
“It’s a little recognition of who they were and what they did,” said Berger. “They were the original civil rights activists, and they didn’t even know what they were doing.”
“We know that time might not be on our side, so we’re thrilled to be a part of the Montford Point Marine family,” added King. “For us as a Black family, it is extremely important and honorable that we have a living legend here with us.
“This was not taught in history when I was in school, so I was amazed to hear the accomplishments of these great men during that time, because I can imagine how difficult it was to go through what they did at Montford Point.”
Berger added, “They’re being seen for the first time.”
During their visit, Johnson offered Berger a heartfelt thank you.
“No, thank you,” she said. “Because if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be here.”
Incredibly, Johnson is not the only Montford Point Marine with ties to South Florida expected to be honored in the next few weeks.
After Local 10′s story aired, a family in Tamarac also contacted Berger.
Cpl. Moses Williams passed away in 1970 and will receive his medal posthumously.
His surviving family will be there to collect it on his behalf.
The search for Montford Point Marines continues. If you have any information on or know anyone that served as a Montford Point Marine please contact: Montford Landing Rd, Jacksonville, NC 28542 · (910) 450-1340
Parts of this story was from a channel 10 news and Montford Point Marines September 7, 2021 By Kaitlyn Crain Enriquez, Posted In African American History, Photographs, Still Pictures, U.S. Marines, World War II
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