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Another glimpse into the past: Honoring African-American Pioneers

By Verda L. Parker | Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany | February 25, 2016


As many citizens across the nation celebrate Black History Month and commemorate the contributions of African-American pioneers from the past, some trailblazers stationed aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany and friends of the installation highlighted noteworthy, history-making experiences in their own lifetime.

Lt. Cmdr. Donald Mitchell, senior nurse executive, Naval Branch Health Clinic-Albany, MCLB Albany, has left his own mark on history.

Among his many accomplishments, Mitchell, who recently became a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, the nation’s leading professional society for healthcare administrations, was also the first African-American male nurse to graduate from the University of Rhode Island, located in Kingston.

“I always craved something greater,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to leave a better legacy for my children, (and) just do things that no one could. I hate that there was color in it, but I wanted to be the first African-American to do… whatever. (That was) because I always wanted the challenge.”

While sharing his personal experiences, Mitchell admits one of the most memorable “highlights” of his career was during his assignment at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland.

“Let me just digress back to Bethesda,” Mitchell recalled. “One of the things that I had the privilege of doing -- and it was kind of the highlight of my career – was having Thurgood Marshall as a patient of mine. (He) was a short-lived patient; but it was the fact that 10-15 minutes, dealing with him, even though he was kind of elderly, (was) set in his ways.

“He was mad at me because I was trying to teach him to use a walker,” Mitchell explained, while chuckling. “He threatened to call the (U.S.) Secret Service or call the Whitehouse on me. The Secret Service (agent) said, ‘Just pay him no mind.’ So, that in itself was (a great experience) for me.”

Marshall was a Civil Rights attorney, the Supreme Court’s 96th justice and its first African-American justice to serve. Marshall studied law at Howard University. As counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he utilized the judiciary to champion equality for African-Americans, according to the bio posted on the website: www.biography.com/people/thurgood-marshall-9400241.

In 1954, Marshall won the ‘Brown v. Board of Education’ case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1967, and served for 24 years. He was said to be “one of the most effective Civil Rights crusaders of the 20th Century,” the website further indicated.

Another pioneer, who has lived decades of history, is Albany resident Henry Jackson, one of the original Montford Point Marines, Congressional Gold Medal recipient and an icon at MCLB Albany.

Jackson, a World War II veteran and retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant, frequently discusses a pivotal moment in Marine Corps history when he was one of the first African-American Marines to attend basic training at Montford Point, North Carolina, during the period between 1942 and 1949.

“Because there were no blacks in the Marine Corps before 1942, President (Franklin) Roosevelt opened the ranks up for (African-Americans),” Jackson said. “He issued a mandate to enlist 20,000 black Marines and, I was one of them.”

Sixty-four years after they served, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law, honoring the contributions of Jackson and other African-American Montford Point Marines. The recognition granted Congressional Gold Medals to the former service members in a ceremony held in Washington, D.C., June 27, 2012.

Read more about the history of the first African-American Marines and their impact on the nation on the National Montford Point Marine Association, Inc. website: www.montfordpointmarines.com/History.html.