CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Many have heard the names of civil rights leaders such Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
But one South Florida woman is making it her mission that more than 20,000 men who were some of the first Black civil rights leaders will be properly recognized.
Mallorie Berger, of Coral Springs, has made it her mission to put names on the faces of those men.
In 2021, she discovered her late grandfather, Maurice L. Burns Sr., was one of the men known as the Montford Point Marines, the first-ever group of Black marines in the U.S. military.
“I proactively find the families or, if I’m lucky, the living Montford Point Marines, so they can get their congressional medal awarded to them,” Berger said.
At the time, in the early 1940s, Black marines were kept separate from their white counterparts.
When they were not allowed to train at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, they were sent to Montford Point and forced to build their own camp in swamp land.
According to Berger, during that time, the men were forced to train in dangerous conditions, all while enduring racial slurs.
“They were very good at hiding the trauma that they carried,” she said.
After breaking many marine records, the men were called to fight in the Pacific, many of them dying on the front lines after everything they endured.
“I don’t know how they did it,” said Berger.
Only about 10% of Montford Point Marines have been identified.
Since Berger’s discovery about her own family, she’s been working to make that number grow.
She says their work is highlighted in the documentary, “Our America - Mission Montford Point.”
“It’s the least we can do to find the 18,000 other marines that are out there,” she said.
In 2012, Montford Point Marines collectively received a congressional gold medal.
Individual replicas were also handed out, including one for Berger’s grandfather.
Berger told Local 10 News reporter Liane Morejon that she wants to make sure their mark on history is never forgotten.
“They paved the way for those who came after them and it’s incredible,” she said.
To learn more about the Montford Point Marines and the efforts to find and honor them all, you can watch the documentary “Our America: Mission Montford Point” on Monday at 1 p.m. right here on Local 10 following our special live coverage of the MLK Day parade in Miami.