JACKSONVILLE — The director of a museum honoring the first black Marines hopes the facility will see a wave of new donations now that Congress has granted those men the nation's highest civilian honor, but he says that hasn't happened yet.
"We haven't seen a mad increase, but there have been many, many pledges made," said Finney Greggs, director of the Montford Point Marine Museum at Camp Johnson, where those Marines trained.
Proceeds from a luncheon Monday to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. will support the museum's upkeep and operations. The event closely follows a moment of long-awaited national recognition for the original Montford Point Marines, who received approval from the U.S. House and Senate late last year to receive the nation's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Marine Corps to accept blacks, and the first to enter the Corps were trained at a segregated site known as Montford Point outside Camp Lejeune. About 19,000 men passed through Montford Point between 1942 and 1949. The Marines were the last military branch to accept blacks, and those from Montford Point have often been forgotten while attention has gone to the Army's Buffalo Soldiers and the Army Air Corps' Tuskegee Airmen.
The black Marines received their basic training adjacent to Camp Lejeune, which they weren't allowed to enter unless accompanied by a white officer. In the few times they participated in training exercises, they could not eat until the white Marines had finished. They were routinely passed over for promotions.
The small museum fits into a wing of a 1940s mess hall at Camp Johnson that was dubbed "The Greasy Spoon" and has accommodated group tours and classes of young Marines learning the base's history for years. The historical artifacts inside, including photographs, letters and personal items, were largely donated or lent to the museum by locals with connection to Montford Point troops.
Luncheon organizer Louise Greggs said the new recognition could expand the museum's collection.
"Since last August when (local Montford Point Marines) were invited up to Washington, D.C., by the commandant, a lot of the guys have spoken about sending the artifacts to us," she said.
The Greggses haven't set a goal for fundraising. They hope to make improvements in the next several years, including hiring an employee to staff the building full time.