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African-American female Marines struggled in the fight against segregation

16 Feb 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Female African-American Marines were nonexistent in the 1940’s.

That changed in 1949, when Annie E. Graham (Gillard), the first African-American woman to join the Marine Corps, and the following day Anne E. Lamb (Ellis) joined.

“It was a great thing,” said retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Nathaniel R. Hosea, a former Montford Point Marine.

Then in 1950, Anne Grimes became the third African-American to enlist.

“I met a (black) female Marine during World War II. They were a tough line of women,” said Hosea.

Retired Sgt. Maj. William “Movin” Vann said seeing a female African-American Marine was a great experience.

“We were elated to see black female Marines because we had paved the way,” said Vann, a former Montford Point Marine. “It was progress as far as African Americans serving in the Marine Corps.”

African-American females still had a long way to go, despite the progress made in the previous decade.

Many of the African-American women’s experiences were shaped by segregation.

When off base, many were not welcome in public establishments with their fellow Marines. Caucasian beauticians who would not cross the color line denied many African-American women services at beauty shops.

Regardless of discrimination, many African-American women went on to successful careers.

Annie Grimes became the first female African-American commissioned officer and also the first black woman officer to retire after a full 20-year career.

Colonel Adele Hodges became the first African-American woman to command Camp Lejeune, N.C., a base that once contained Montford Point Camp, the site of the first African-Americans to join the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1949.

Hodges said women like Grimes made it possible for many people, both male and female, to become Marines today.

“We couldn’t have done it without them taking up the challenge,” Hodges said. “(They) opened the door for many Marines behind them.”

“This is all just part of Grimes’ legacy,” Vann said.

Hosea said African-American women have come along way from the clerical positions they held in 1950.

“I never envisioned that they would do what they do now, being truck drivers and mechanics,” Hosea said.

Hosea said female African-American Marines not only broke race boundaries but also paved the way for all women serving in the United States Marine Corps.

Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton