In celebration of Black History Month, the Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center in East St. Louis hosted a presentation by Tony Chestang, president of the Montford Point Marine Association, about the first group of African American Marines.
Chestang visited the center on February 20, where he spoke to 130 inmates who participate in the SWICC in-custody treatment program, as well as staff from GEO Reentry Services and Illinois Department of Corrections and SWICC vendors, about the Montford Point Marines and their perseverance in the face of adversity.
The U.S. Marines were the last branch of the military to enlist African Americans, which finally happened in 1942 after President Roosevelt issued an executive order. But the African American soldiers who were recruited were not sent to traditional boot camp for basic training, but to a segregated facility at Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
In June 2012, a Congressional Gold Medal was awarded collectively to the Montford Point Marines in recognition of their personal sacrifice and service to their country during World War II. Today, to honor the soldiers’ bravery and persistence in the face of segregation and unequal treatment, the Montford Point Marines Association supports educational assistance and community services for veterans.
“Participants had the privilege of witnessing history right before their eyes,” said Lori Moore, SWICC’s program director. “It was thrilling for many of us to learn about this little-known chapter in black history. We were grateful for Mr. Chestang’s visit.”