Freeman Stokes was born June 1, 1924, in Washington, Wilkes County, Georgia, where he grew up subject to Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation, enforced discrimination and racism, and denied he and other blacks their basic civil rights.
Twenty years later Stokes was among the first African American U.S. Marines trained at Montford Point in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
Stokes served in World War II in the Pacific, in the Korean War in the 1950s, and with Marine Reserves at Camp Pendleton and Twentynine Palms before he moved to Banning in 1960, he told Banning-Beaumont Patch in an interview Friday at his home on East Indian School Lane.
"This is my home 50 years, me and my family," Stokes said. "It's changed some, more people here now. But this is home. We like Banning."
At 11:30 a.m. Saturday Jan. 25, Stokes, now 90 years old, will be honored for his service in the Montford Point Marines in a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony at Banning City Hall.
Montford Point recruits from 1942 to 1949 trained and served separate from white Marines. About 20,000 black Marines were trained at Montford Point and
about 13,000 served overseas during World War II, according to the
Montford Point Marine Association.
"Montford Point Marines often are honored as important figures and role models in American history because they willingly fought to protect a nation that did not offer them basic civil rights," author Coral Anika Theill wrote in an article for
Leatherneck, Magazine of the Marines, in 2011.
Here's more from the article:
The battle that took place from 1939 to 1945 for world freedom has
been referred to as America’s war. But while American troops fought the
horror of World War II, the Montford Point Marines fought a second
battle - one for equal treatment.
Like the Army, Air Force and Navy, today’s Marine Corps is fully
integrated, but for generations the Marines did not admit
African-Americans. The racial integration of the American military was a lengthy process that started in 1941. The Marine Corps today contains
many successful African-American members and leaders, who trace their
lineage to the group known as the "Montford Pointers."
Congress has commissioned gold medals since the American Revolution as its "highest expression of
national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions," according to a House of Representatives history.
The Montford Point Marines were first recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal on Nov. 11, 2011.
For a full list of the nation's Congressional Gold Medal honorees see
Congressman Raul Ruiz is expected to make the gold medal presentation Saturday to Stokes at City Hall, 99 E. Ramsey St., according to Ruiz' staff and Banning Mayor Debbie Franklin.