A North Augusta man is being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his duty as part of the Montford Point Marines.
According to a news release from U.S. Sen. Kay R. Hagan, D-N.C., the Senate unanimously awarded the medal to everyone in the group Wednesday. The House passed the measure Oct. 25.
Ambassador Theodore R. Britton Jr. LLD was born in North Augusta and lived in “Blue Heaven,” which he said was an area of town owned by George Briggs.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a directive giving black people the opportunity to be recruited into the U.S. Marine Corps.
Britton was one of about 20,000 black Marines who received basic training at Montford Point, a facility at Camp Lejeune, N.C., between 1942 and 1949.
“We weren’t sent where everyone else was,” said Britton. “We didn’t go to Parris Island or San Diego.”
According to the Montford Point Marines Web site, the initial intent of the Marine Corps hierarchy was to discharge these black Marines after World War II, leaving the Marine Corps an all-white organization.
Britton said after the war, the numbers dwindled to around 1,500 black Marines because the men were so “disenchanted.” But they had proven themselves during the war, so the Navy slowly came around.
“At Montford Point, we could not go into the main campus without a white escort,” Britton said. “It was supposed to be an experiment to have us there. It was a very demeaning experience. “
Britton said there will be one gold medal sent to the Navy museum, and then all the surviving members of the Montford Point Marines will be given a replica.
“It means something significant,” he said. “The gold medal is to commemorate the work of the black Marines. It is to acknowledge some of the things we had to endure.”
Britton himself spent the war at the staging for the invasion of Japan.
After World War II, Britton went back to civilian life. In 1950, he was recalled for the Korean War. At that point, he elected to be discharged so he could continue his civilian career.
According to his biography, Britton retired from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after serving in a variety of high-level positions, including deputy assistant secretary for research and technology. In 1989, he received HUD’s Distinguished Service Award. Upon his retirement, he was honored with resolutions from the city councils of Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C.
As an ambassador, he served as the chief of mission to Barbados and to the State of Grenada, from 1974 to 1977, with the rank of ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary. In addition, he served concurrently as the U.S. special representative to the states of Antigua, Dominica, St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.
He married a woman from Jacksonville, Fla., and now lives in Atlanta.