By Military Sealift Command Public Affairs – Military Sealift Command’s Special Emphasis Observance Committee hosted a Black History Month celebration on board Naval Station Norfolk, Feb. 15.
African American History month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time set aside to recognize the central role of African Americans in U.S. history.
The keynote speaker for MSC’s Black History Month celebration was Bruce Smith, a legendary National Football League (NFL) Hall of Famer, founder of Bruce Smith Enterprises and native of Norfolk, Virginia.
“The contributions, sacrifices and efforts of African Americans have made our country stronger, a better place to live, and inclusive,” said Smith. “I am honored to stand here before you today to pay homage to the founder of Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson.”
Carter G. Woodson created the precursor to African American History Month in 1926 when he announced the second week of February to be ‘Negro History Week.’ This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 12 and of Frederick Douglass on Feb.14, prominent figures in the African American community.
“The NFL and the military have a few things in common,” said Smith. “Both became racially integrated in the 1940’s. As a result of integration, the sport of professional football became better and the military became better.”
“Both institutions became very influential, well respected and admired by many. And we should feel extremely proud of this,” added Smith. “It is because of our leaders and the courage of African American men and women, and other minorities, the issues facing African Americans were brought to the forefront. It is because of the sacrifices of these great Americans that we are here today. When we as African Americans succeed our country succeeds.”
The celebration included the introduction of Master Sergeant (RET) Curt Clark, president of Montford Point Marines Association, and an audience viewing of a short film about the christening of MSC’s expeditionary transport dock USNS Montford Point (T-ESD 1).
“We are not just celebrating black history this month; we are celebrating American history,” said Clark. “Please take the information you are learning today and share it and continue to celebrate the history of our country each and every day.”
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a directive giving African Americans the opportunity to be recruited into the Marine Corps. In 1948 President Harry S. Truman ended the practice of segregation in the U.S. Military.
“Montford Point was a segregated camp,” added Clark. “They had to fight for the right to fight. And when those Marines came home they were not always received in a loving manner.”
“The Montford Point Marines are World War II heroes,” said Clark. “From 1942 to 1949 approximately 20,000 African Americans trained on the hallowed grounds of Jacksonville, North Carolina, to earn the title Marine.”