Alabamian who helped integrate U.S. Marine Corps dies at 92
On the second day of Black History Month, Raymond J. Williams passed away at his home in Birmingham at the age of 92. His passing was first reported by AL.com.
Williams was born and raised in New Orleans. He moved to Huntsville in 1999, and recently moved to Birmingham, both times to be near family.
Williams was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps. He was one of the storied Montford Point Marines, the title given to the initial wave of black men who enlisted in the Marines from 1942-1949.
“Everything turned out good in the Marine Corps. I loved the Marine Corps,” Williams told the Redstone Rocket in 2015. “I am so proud of the Marine Corps and what they have done.
For most of World War II, the Marines were segregated; the black men who joined were all trained at Camp Montford Point in Jacksonville, NC –hence the title “Montford Point Marines.”
Williams enlisted in 1946, after the official end of hostilities but before the official war effort was wrapped up. Shortly after his initial training at Camp Montford Point, he became a military police officer and his unit transferred to the all-white Hadnot Point.
“There was some tension the first night we were there. But then they accepted us,” Williams told the Rocket of the white Marines at Hadnot Point.
In serving at Hadnot Point, Williams helped the installation become one of the first to be integrated in the American military. He later served to integrate a military depot in New Jersey, as well.
“Integration went so smoothly and quietly in the Marines. I’ve gone through a lot of books about the history of the Marines, and it’s hard to find out about the 1946 integration,” he told the Redstone Rocket.
President Harry S Truman issued an executive order in 1948 that ended segregation in the Marine Corps. Camp Montford was disbanded one year later.
The United States Congress approved in 2011 an act granting the entirety of the Montford Point Marines a Congressional Gold Medal.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow.
According to a 2019 AL.com article, An illness cost Williams his chance to attend the official ceremony where the medals were awarded, but a Marine unit presented him with it in 2012.
According to reports, one of Williams’ primary reasons for joining the armed forces was that the GI bill would pay for his college education. It did. He got two degrees from Xavier University in New Orleans.
Education continued to be important to Williams throughout his life. He made sure all seven of his children graduated from college.
They all survive him now, as do 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.