A celebration was held Sunday at the community center, complete with exhibits, photographs, speakers, a drum corps and soul food.
Brooklyn, N. Y., native Master Gunnery Sgt. (ret.) Gilbert Taylor of Jacksonville and Theodore R. Britton Jr., of Atlanta spoke on the Montford Point Marines, a group of African Americans who entered the Marine Corps from 1942-49 at Montford Point Camp, New River, N. C.
Taylor explained how these Marines received the same treatment as the Tuskegee Airmen, in that they were treated with less respect than the other Marines.
“We’ve heard of the Tuskegee Airmen with the same challenges,” he said. “The Montford Point Marines did a remarkable job proving themselves over and over again. These Marines had to face the same challenges and go through the same training, all the while receiving little or no respect. The true challenge had to be when they were finally called upon to serve in combat, and many did serve in combat during World War II.”
A lot of the history of African American military men has been erased because records were not kept or were not kept properly.
“We’re depending on our surviving Montford Point Marines for their information, stories and events they endured,” said Taylor.
Taylor enlisted in the Marine Corps in September 1978 after high school and ended up becoming an instructor.
“I wanted to better myself,” he said. “I could have gone to school or join the military. It’s just a matter of where you fit in in your life, and for me to fit in, it had to be the military.”
In March 2004, Taylor arrived at the Marine Corps Detachment, U. S. Army Training Command Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., to assume duties as the Military Police School chief instructor.
Taylor has received numerous awards for his service and has served in various positions with the Marine Corps. One of his more distinguished roles was serving with the Joint Command Presidential inauguration for then President Ronald Regan.
Soon after his retirement in August 2008, Taylor was inducted into the Montford Point Marine Association Hall of Fame and continues to provide the dedicated commitment in preserving the legacy of these Marines. He designed and updates the website, www.montfordpointmarine.com
He and his wife, Debbie, have a son, two daughters and two grandchildren.
Taylor introduced Theodore R. Britton Jr., an original Montford Point Marine, who recently received the Congressional Gold Medal at the White House. Britton spoke on preserving the legacy of the African American Marines, which was the last branch of service to integrate.
Nancy Dickens has been a committee member of Black History Month for the past four years. This year, she said, was a success as were the others, with a turnout of over 150.
“It started here in the courtroom at city hall,” said Dickens. “We’ve branched out. It’s gotten bigger and bigger every year.”
Sandra Sudduth is also on the committee.
“We try to spotlight the youth in the city, and we’ve done quite a few programs with speakers and contests,” she said. “We want to spotlight the youth as well as the black citizens of Jacksonville who have gone on and excelled in their lives.”
Sudduth said celebrating black history is an opportunity to let everyone know what has taken place in America.
“We’re all citizens,” she said. “We all have a history to celebrate. It all boils down to being an American.”
She expressed her appreciation to the citizens and city for supporting the event.
Sudduth’s father, the late Theodore B. Fox, was the city’s first African American councilman. He was also an educator. He died in 1988 as he was going into his fourth term. Sudduth was elected to replace him and has served in that position since.
“He was quite a man,” she said. “He believed in the City of Jacksonville. He took that position because he thought there was a need to speak for people who did not have a voice. It wasn’t just for the black community. It was for everyone. He represented everyone. He listened to everyone.”
Jacksonville went through the Civil Rights years peacefully, and the senior Fox has been given a lot of credit for that.
“He always told us, you don’t get things done by being upset,” said his daughter. “He was very even tempered.”
Another daughter, Sydney Long, also lives in Jacksonville.