Triad fundraiser for first African-American Marines

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MEBANE, N.C. -- Clero Florence remembers training at Montford Point, an African-American training camp at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

Montford Point Marines were the first African-American recruits in a previously all-white Marine Corps.

Florence, of Alamance County, was 19 years old when he joined. He started his training in 1943 at the segregated camp and would later be deployed to Guam.

"I felt like I am a man now," Florence said, when reflecting on his experience once leaving the Marine Corps. "They taught me a lot of things I didn't know in terms of discipline."

Florence is now 93 years old and appreciates a weekend event for him and other Montford Point Marines with ties to the area.

On Saturday at 2:30 p.m., there will be a fundraiser for Montford Point Marines at the Mebane Arts Center. Organizer Crystal Brown says she and others putting on the event have identified 25 Montford Point Marines with ties to the Triad-Triangle area, some who are living and others who have passed.

The fundraiser is in its fourth year. Brown started it when she was in high school. She's hoping for a turnout of at least 300 people.

The goal is to raise $9,000 to buy bricks to put the local Marines names on that will then be added to an existing Montford Point Memorial in Jacksonville.

"It's just a great feeling knowing how you're impacting somebody's life who means a lot to history, " Brown said. "And when you see the turnout it's just a really great feeling."

Brown, now attending college in the Triad area, has parents who served in the military. Over her lifetime she's met several Montford Point Marines, who she says are inspirational and deserving. The annual fundraiser allows her to do something special for the Marines locally.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. People can also buy paperback books that detail the history some Montford Point Marines in the area. There's also food plates, raffle tickets and donation buckets to help organizers reach their fundraising goals.

There will be gospel performances from number of gospel artists, including the mother of Fantasia Barrino and North Carolina A&T's Gospel Choir.