The Marine Corps celebrates the nationwide observance of African American/Black History Month throughout February.
Origins of the observance date back to 1915 with the foundation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the “Father of Black History.” The association proclaimed the first Negro History Week in February 1926, which evolved into the current month-long observance.
This year’s theme – “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future” – allows the Marine Corps to honor its African American history while recognizing the ongoing contributions to the success and development of our nation.
One Marine that broke many barriers for African American Marines is Frank E. Petersen, Jr. Petersen enlisted in the U.S. Navy in June 1950 and completed flight training in October 1952, becoming the fourth African American naval aviator and the first African American Marine pilot. Flying Vought F4U Corsairs, Petersen completed 64 combat missions during the Korean War. In Vietnam, LtCol Petersen commanded Marine Fighter/Attack Squadron 314, becoming the first African American naval officer to command a squadron in combat. Petersen flew more than 300 combat missions and was rescued after being shot down over the Demilitarized Zone.
In February 1979, Pres. Jimmy Carter selected Petersen for promotion to brigadier general, making him the first Marine African American general. Petersen went on to command the 1st Marine Air Wing and the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, Virginia, before retiring in 1988 as a lieutenant general after 38 years of service.
In our Legacy Walk Gallery, visitors to the museum can visit an exhibit that highlights LtGen Petersen's history and artifacts from our collection.
The exhibit includes Petersen's flight helmet and jacket and Gray Eagle award.
Visit our African American History Month page for more information on the service of African Americans in the Corps.