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Key West Dedicates New Memorial To Local Black Men Who Were Montford Point Marines

Ruth Sawyer takes a photo of a new memorial in Key West dedicated to 13 local men, including her father.
Nancy Klingener
Ruth Sawyer takes a photo of the new memorial in Key West dedicated to 13 Montford Point Marines from World War II, including her father, Robert B. Sawyer Sr. at the Key West Veterans Memorial Garden at Bayview Park on May 31, 2021.

While cities across the country held Memorial Day ceremonies Monday — as they have since the Civil War — Key West had a ceremony that was the first of its kind for the island city.

The city unveiled a new monument to 13 Black men from Key West who were among the first Black Marines in the country and served in World War II.

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A local choir sang the national anthem — and then they started another song: "Lift Every Voice And Sing," also known as the Black national anthem.

Monroe Holloway III read the names of the 13 men, including two of his great-grandfathers, Clarence Alce Sr. and George Carey. They were among the first Black men in the country to enlist as Marines. They trained at a segregated base in Montford Point, N.C. and became known as Montford Point Marines.

The 11 other Montford Point Marines from Key West named on the monument: Charles A. Allen, Sr., Vernol H. Carey, James Hall, Shedrack M.A. Hannibal, Jr., Timothy E. Johnson, William C. Johnson, Sr., Charles G. Manuel, Nathaniel W. Mickens, Robert B. Sawyer, Sr., Nathan B. Tynes, and Ralph Williams.

In 2011, the Montford Point Marines were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

"It's a long time coming. They were unsung heroes for a very long time and it's a blessing that we're able to be here today to celebrate their legacy," Holloway said.

Like Black service members across the country, the marines from Key West faced bigotry when they returned home to the island after serving their country overseas.

"As the generations go on, the prayer is that we get better and better. I'm really happy that Key West is starting to acknowledge that history. We've always, always got work to do," Holloway said.

The new memorial to Key West's Montford Point Marines stands near a statue to Black Union soldiers who signed up in Key West during the Civil War. It's also near a pavilion originally dedicated to the soldiers and sailors of the Confederacy. The city re-named and rededicated it last year, after its official motto: One Human Family.

Monroe Holloway III speaks at the dedication of the memorial to the Montford Point marines in Key West.
Nancy Klingener
Monroe Holloway III speaks at the dedication of Key West's new memorial to the Montford Point Marines and read the 13 names, which include two of his great-grandfathers.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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