FORT SILL, Okla._ Black History Month kicked off on post with a celebration honoring one of the first African American marines.
PFC Rudolph Phillips was part of the Montford Marines, a group of 20,000 black soldiers who were segregated from their white counterparts in the 1940s. They are known as a group who broke barriers and paved the way for the desegregated military in the United States today.
It was in 1942 President Theodore Roosevelt first attempted to end discrimination in the military. Montford Point in North Carolina is where African American marines were sent for basic training. Thousands of dreams soon became reality in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"They were trying to defend their country, wanted to defend their country, but they weren't allowed to," says Sgt. Maj. Joe Thornton, of Ft. Sill's marine detachment.
One of those black soldiers was PFC Phillips, whose son was on hand Monday afternoon on post to accept a Congressional Gold Medal in his father's name.
"If my dad was alive right now he would probably say how proud he would be," says Johnny Phillips. "He would stand to say: 'I told you! I'm a United States marine and I'm proud of it'."
At a time when diversity and equality were not used frequently, he says his father always had hope: "He always told us to love," says Phillips. "Don't hate. Love."
Phillips says his father and all minority soldiers led by example and worked just as hard defending the America as white men at the time.
"Even though they were black, they were still American citizens and that's what made them fight so hard," says Phillips. "That's why they were so proud of what they did."
Fast forward 70 years and Ft. Sill's commanding general says it's hard to imagine a military without diversity. That's something Phillips views as a success.
"It would be a sad thing is we all thought the same thing, all the same way," says MG Mark McDonald.
Mayor Fred Fitch officially signed a proclamation making February 2014 Black Heritage Month.