First African-American Marines raising money to save their veterans center

Matt Saintsing
December 18, 2018 - 4:27 pm

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Damaris Arias

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For more than a half-century, the Montford Point Marines Association on the South Side of Chicago has been a place of community for the nation’s first African-American Marines. 

But due to a series of financial messes, the oldest Marine post in Chicago is at risk of closing its doors for good. 

Courtesy of National Archives

Montford Point is where the first ever African-American Marines were trained in Jacksonville, N.C. From 1942 to 1949, more than 20,000 African-American men earned the coveted title of United States Marine and served honorably in massive military campaigns during World War II such as D-Day and the Battle of Iwo Jima. 

After falling behind on tax payments, it was brought to their attention that, as a nonprofit, they should be tax exempt. 

The center was in the process of filing for an exemption, when their tax debt was sold to a real-estate company who gave them until Feb. 1, 2019 to settle the $72,000 debt, or face foreclosure.

President of the Montford Point Marines Chicago Chapter Sharon Stokes-Parry tells Connecting Vets that the center is much more than a place for the first African-American Marine veterans, it’s a staple of the local community. 

The building is a refuge for those who should “not have to worry about some of this violence that’s going on in the city of Chicago, and it’s just a shame to lose that safety and security and a lot of history,” she says. 

Photo by Kaylah Jackson

The center is a staging area to deliver Christmas baskets to sick veterans in the area. The Association is also a sponsor for both Boy and Girl Scouts, a food pantry for residents in need, and a mainstay for back to school events for neighborhood children. 

“A lot of people are sad that it could close,” she adds. “We’ve had weddings, birthdays—milestone birthdays at that—anniversaries, you name it, and we’ve hosted it here.” 

But their tax problems aren’t their only cash flow troubles. 

Local politicians have promised a grant to maintain and refurbish the building, but due to the budget issues of the state of Illinois, that money has yet to be given. 

The group has a GoFundMe account with a goal of $200,000. Stokes-Parry says in addition to the tax bill, the building desperately needs a new roof and HVAC system for air conditioning and heating. 

As of Tuesday, the account has only raised $2,619. 

Courtesy of National Archives

“If we get over the tax hurdle, then we can make the center more viable to bring more people into our community,” says Stokes-Parry. “A lot of the members are 70 and older, who may need a place to stay warm. And we need to be a safe haven for our youth.” 

But for James Reynolds, a 91-year-old Montford Point Marine, the possible closing is personal. 

“It’s important to have this center for us as senior veterans to have a place to network with the younger vets and give them support,” he says. “If we lose this space we will not have a place where our families can meet.” 

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