Editor's Note: Today, Congress honored the Montford Marines with the highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. The following story, written in 2011 tells the history of the first African American Marines.
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Edwin J. Fizer got off the train to report for training at Montford Point, North Carolina in the summer of 1942. He, like all proud Marines, had to prove his mettle.
Except, Fizer had another tough hurdle. He was black, and until then, the U.S. Marine Corps had been all white.
But in June, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an order that began to erase discrimination in the armed forces. The Marines were the last to open up and the next year, Fizer was among 18,000 young black men who trained - not at Parris Island - but at a segregated facility in Montford Point, North Carolina.
"It was one of the worst times of my life," said Fizer, in Atlanta Saturday for the annual gathering of the Montford Point Marines. "I was fighting the war on racism and Jim Crow and at the same time getting ready to fight a war overseas."
The history-making Marines never received the same recognition as the famed Tuskegee Airmen, African-American pilots who fought in World War II. But the few Montford Marines who are still alive reunite each year at their convention and hope to spread the word about the path they paved.