ALBANY, Ga. — In July of 1946, Henry Jackson was approached by a recruiter and asked if he would like to become a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. Jackson was interested, but the recruiter told him he had to be at least 18 to join.
Jackson, who was just 17 at the time, said, "We worked around that."
Jackson signed up and in doing so became one of the famous Montford Point Marines, the first African-Americans to serve in the Marine Corps.
On Sunday, Jackson will be featured in a Black History Month program at Cray Chapel CME Church. In June of last year, as one of the original Montford Point Marines, Jackson, along with 500 of his comrades, was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal by President Barack Obama in recognition of his service.
"I really didn't do much in the Marines except finish boot camp," Jackson said. "After boot camp, I took an early out and they put me in the reserves. When my stint was up in 1949, I joined the Air Force and retired as a master sergeant in 1971."
The black Marines were trained at Montford Point, N.C., from 1942 until 1949 when blacks were fully integrated into the Corps. Jackson still looks back with pride at the time spent there during his short stint.
"The history of Montford Point is rich," he said. "I'd like to think that we helped pave the way not only for other black Marines, but also for the country as a whole. One day when I take a vacation, I'd like to go back (to Montford Point) and see how much it's changed. I'm sure I'd not recognize the place."
Growing up in the segregated south, Jackson, now 83, doesn't like to discuss the past that much, preferring to look instead to the future.
"Let's just say times are really different now in Albany," he said. "There were many things we couldn't do and many places we couldn't go, like eat at certain restaurants. Now we have the same rights as everybody else, and that's the way it should be."
After retiring from the Air Force, Jackson returned to Albany and worked as a "jack of all trades" in town, spending quite a bit of time in the security business.
He and Gertrude, his wife of 58 years, have six children, "17 or 18 grands and 10 or 12 great-grands. It's hard for me to keep up with them all," he said laughing.
Sunday's Black History Month program at Cray Chapel will be held after morning services, which begin at 10:15 a.m.