The Montford Point Marines: One Step Towards Civil Rights

Guiding Question:

Why do people who lack full civil rights at home fight for freedom abroad?


Using the interactive technology from the American Battle Monuments Commission and primary sources, students will examine the impact of Executive Order 8802 both during and after World War II.


Historical Context

In June 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802. The order signaled the end of legal racial discrimination in the defense industry and government agencies but not the armed forces. Executive Order 8802 resulted in the creation of several African American units that served with distinction during World War II, ultimately dispelling notions held by members of the military establishment regarding black Americans’ fitness or willingness to serve. One of these units was the Montford Point Marines. Although they were not initially welcomed by the Marine Corps establishment, they served with distinction in some of the toughest combat zones in the Pacific Theater. They participated in campaigns on Saipan, Guam, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima. The Montford Point Marines’ actions would serve as one of the catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Explain how the service of African American service members during World War II paved the path for desegregation of the U.S. Armed Forces; and
  • Explain why men fought and died for a nation that denied them full civil rights.

    Standards Connections

    Connections to Common Core
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.
    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

    Connections to C3 Framework
    D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.


    Lesson Preparation


    Activity One: Timeline (45 minutes)

    • Divide students into groups of three or four students each.
    • Explain that students will be reviewing a series of documents that covers World War II and the Korean Conflict. They will be examining the role of African Americans in both conflicts.
    • Give each group one set of primary source documents and give each student a Timeline Worksheet.
      • Teacher Tip: The dates have been purposefully removed from the documents, but there are clues scattered throughout to help students.
    • Ask students to review the sources and place them in chronological order. Students should work together and discuss their reasoning, but if they disagree, they may put the documents in a different order on their individual Timeline Worksheets.
    • Direct students to complete the “source name,” “approximate date,” and “justification for date estimate” columns on their Timeline Worksheets.
    • Monitor student groups and answer questions as needed.
    • When students are finished, reveal the correct order. A Teacher Guide, including specific facts, and discussion questions is included to assist with this process.
    • After reviewing the documents, ask students to complete the synthesis question at the bottom on the Timeline Worksheet.

    Activity Two: Case Study (30 minutes)

    • Introduce the students to the Montford Point Marines (details included in Teacher Guide). Explain where the Marines were fighting in the last two years of the war.
    • Project the ABMC’s World War II: A Visual History Interactive Timeline. Click “enter,” “1944,” and “Western Pacific Campaign.” Read the summary and show the video clip to help orient students to the conditions on Saipan.
    • Project the Fallen Hero Profile for Private First Class Kenneth J. Tibbs and read the profile with the class. Watch the video eulogy at the bottom of the page.
    • Ask students,
      • Why would Private First Class Tibbs fight for a nation that did not give him full civil rights at home?
      • What factors motivated the Montford Point Marines?
      • Do you think the actions of the Montford Point Marines had an impact on the military and political leaders of the late 1940s?
      • How do you think the experience was the same or different for service members who served in the Korean War?

    Assessment Materials

    • Distribute one copy of the Tibbs Letter Instructions and Rubric to each student.
    • Review instructions with students.
    • Student writing can be assessed using the Tibbs Letter Rubric.

    Methods for Extension

    • Students with more interest in the service of African Americans in World War II can research the Montford Point Marines, the 92nd Infantry Division (who served in Europe) or the 93rd Infantry Division (who served in the Pacific).
    • Students can search the Library of Congress Veterans History Project for written, audio, and video interviews with African American servicemembers from World War II and Korea.


    • Teachers can adapt the lesson by varying the sources given to each student.
    • Teachers can assign students to complete the writing assessment cooperatively in pairs or groups as is appropriate.


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