MIGHTY HISTORY

15 photos of the first black Marines in US history

The first black Marines weren't allowed to enlist until 1942, meaning that cameras were in wide use by the time the first such men earned their Eagle, Globe, and Anchors. Here are 15 photos from those racial pioneers who went on to fight America's battles, especially in the Pacific, in World War II.

The U.S. Marine Corps didn't allow black men into its ranks until 1942, months after America joined World War II and decades after the Army and Navy began accepting black troops. But that delayed start means that cameras were common when the first black Marines earned their Eagle, Globe, and Anchors. Here are 15 photos from those first pioneers.


(Writer's note: These images come from the National Archives which have a whole section dedicated to black troops in World War II with over 250 images. The captions below were updated for language and clarity, but the information contained comes from that archive. You can find more images and historical context by visiting them here.)

1. Howard P. Perry was the first black man to be accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps. He joined June 1, 1942, and trained in a first class of 1,200 black men at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

2. Black volunteers could order their dress uniforms for $54. It was reportedly a popular purchase even though it was not a required piece of gear.

3. Staff Sgt Timerlate Kirven and Cpl. Samuel J. Love, Sr. stand with their orders after receiving Purple Hearts from the Second Marine Division. They were the first black men to be decorated by the division, and the awards came following wounds received at the Battle of Saipan.

4. Frederick C. Branch of Charlotte, North Carolina, is pinned lieutenant by his wife in November 1945. He was a veteran of the recently finished World War II and was the Marine Corp's first black officer.

5. Black Marines carry a malnourished Japanese prisoner of war to an evacuation point on the island of Iwo Jima.

6. Sgt. Lucious A. Wilson, the black Marine, was in charge of "Negro Marine public relations" at Montford Point Camp, North Carolina. Wilson was a former news correspondent and was in charge of the white Marine, Cpl. Edwin K. Anderson.

7. Pfc. Luther Woodward shows off his Bronze Star, awarded for bravery, initiative, and cunning. His award would later be upgraded to the Silver Star.

8. ​Marine Robert Stockman explains the use of his carbine to attentive Coast Guardsmen in February 1944.

9. Marine Sgt. F. Smit and Cpl. S. Brown prepare to drink water from a coconut on Saipan.

10.  Members of the 51st Composite Defense Battalion, the first black Marine Corps unit, stand with their gun in 1945. The weapon was named the Lena Horne by the crew.

11.  Pfc. Horace Boykin rides a bike in front of Cpl. Willis T. Anthony, Pfc. Emmit Shackelford, and Pfc. Eugene Purdy in June 1944 on Saipan. The men were attached to the 3rd Ammunition Company.

12.  Pfcs. Willie J. Kanody, Elif Hill, and John Alexander on the beaches of Iwo Jima.

13.  Black Marines rest in trenches on Peleliu Island, September 15, 1944.

14.  Black Marines wait to disembark a Coast Guard ship into combat in the Pacific in February 1944.

15.  Black Marines rest on a Japanese war memorial during a drive to capture and harry retreating Japanese forces on April 12, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa. Pfc. F. O. Snowden and Navy Pharmacist's Mate 2nd class R. Martin are on the steps while Pvt. J. T. Walton, Pvt. R. T. Ellenberg, Pfc. Clyde Brown, Pvt. Robb Brawner, sit from left to right on the memorial itself.