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Montford Point Marine Association Engages Edison Middle School Students in Historical Journey

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Gunnery Sgt. (Ret.-USMC)) Kelly Atkinson began his conversation with Edison Middle School students on Feb. 23 with an insightful statement:

“I am not here to teach Black history,” he began, “I’m teaching American history you might not have heard about.”

So began a history lesson like no other, as Sgt. Atkinson regaled and enthralled students and faculty alike with the history of Black soldiers in the United States Marines. John Martin, a slave from Delaware, was the first Black man to join the Continental Marines in 1776. He saw battle on the USS Reprisal and at the Battle of Princeton.  700 Black men were on the enlistment rolls at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

In 1798, the Continental Marines became the United States Marine Corps, yet it was not until Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that Blacks could enlist in the armed forces. Until Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in 1941 banning discrimination in the armed forces, there were no Black marines until Alfred Masters enlisted on June 1, 1942. Units were still segregated, however, and the 20,000 Black men that enlisted in the Marines were not sent to Parris Island, but Montford Point in Jacksonville, NC, where they had to build their own camp from the ground up.

As marines, they fought primarily in the Pacific Corridor. 87 Montford Point marines died in WWII, and in 1948 President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. In 1949, Annie Graham became the first black woman to enlist in the marines, and in 1950, Annie Grimes became the first officer.

“Paper guides the history of the company,” Sgt. Atkinson noted.

In 1974, Montford Point was renamed Camp Johnson, in honor of Sergeant Major Gilbert H. “Hashmark” Johnson, and many historical artifacts from Montford Point are on display there.

“Never, ever quit on your dreams. Be like the men at Montford Point. They didn’t,” concluded Sgt. Atkinson.

In addition to teaching about the history of the Montford Point. Marines throughout New Jersey, they and the National Chapter are in search of the families of former and deceased Montford Point. Marines to present them with the Gold Medal of Honor as decreed by President Barack Obama in June 2012. Of the 20,000 men of Montford Point, only 2,000 have received medals.

To read more about the history of the Montford Point Marines, go HERE.

To read more about the National Montford Point Marine Association, go HERE,

To read more about NJ Chapter 45 of the National Montford Point Marine Association, go HERE.

If you or someone you know may know the family of a Montford Point Marine, contact the MPMA at

Kelly Atkinson, (USMC Veteran) is the President of the New Jersey Chapter of The National Montford Point Marine Association, a non-profit organization that was established in May 2020 and serves the entire state. Membership is open to all veterans regardless of branch of service, race, creed, and religious beliefs.​

The NJNMPMA travels throughout New Jersey giving presentations at schools, churches, organizations, etc., regarding the history of the Montford Point Marines. We are also involved with the Marine Corps League Young Marines program and Rahway, NJ High School's Jr ROTC program. We also conduct leadership presentations and mentoring for these programs.

During the Christmas Holiday season, NJMPMA collects and gives away toys in underserved communities. We also collaborate with other veteran organizations and support activities that assist veterans.

Montford Point

EMS Asst. Principal Dr. Keri Orange-Jones, Rick Stephens (his dad Paul was a MPM), EMS Principal Steve Melendez, Gunnery Sgt. (Ret. USMAC) Kelly Atkinson, Corporal Jose Trujillo, event organizer and EMS Academic Advisor Janet Wiggins-White

Montford Point

Sgt. Atkinson engages students.




Cynthia Cumming
Feb. 29, 2024