My Father, the Montford Point Marine

From The Root DC: Learning to understand a man who was among the first to integrate the Marines.

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William Baxter Gaines Sr. (Courtesy of Pauletta Gaines)

By Patricia Gaines

My father, William Baxter Gaines Sr., and I always had a contentious relationship. He didn't talk much to his children about his military experience. He did not hug, read bedtime stories, give out compliments or kiss goodnight. This didn't seem to bother my siblings. I, on the other hand, languished.

I took my father's shunning personally and I left home as a teenager, deciding that I didn't care what he thought of me or whether he ever said, "I love you." But of course it did matter. My bottled-up desperation to be loved exploded again and again.

This was us. On the evening of April 4, 1968, as news spread of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, riots erupted in the District. I was pregnant with my daughter and trying to comprehend bringing a child into a racist, violent world. As I walked into our house in Glenarden, my father said, "Your people are rioting." His comments sparked a loud, heated exchange between us.

I resented his separating himself from other black people. He believed America gave anyone willing to work an opportunity to succeed. He was unrelenting in his patriotism to a country I didn't think deserved it. I thought he didn't understand our struggle for freedom and justice.

How wrong I was.

Just a few weeks ago, more than two decades after my father died, I learned that he had been among the first black men to integrate the Marine Corps, the last branch of the military to integrate. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1941, ordered that the Marines to integrate. And from 1942 to 1949, about 19,000 black men -- my father among them -- trained at Montford Point in North Carolina.

Read the rest of this article at The Root DC.

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