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“The first Negro to be commissioned in the Marine Corps has his second lieutenant’s bars pinned on by his wife. He is Frederick C. Branch of Charlotte, NC.”,

Photo by Photo courtesy of the National Archives

Celebrating the contributions of Frederick Branch

11 Feb 2016 | Valerie O’Berry Marine Corps Base Quantico

Marine Corps Base Quantico often names its buildings after Marines who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their countries or contributed to the Marine Corps in a special way. Branch Hall at the Officer Candidates School is no exception. The building is named after Frederick Clinton Branch, the first African American officer in the Marine Corps.

Branch was born in Hamlet, North Carolina. He was the fourth of seven sons born to an African Methodist Episcopal minister.

His service in the Marine Corps began when he was drafted as an enlisted man in May 1943, two years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt forged a path for African American Marines by signing an executive order which prohibited racial discrimination by any government agency. Branch went into uniform and was sent to Montford Point, North Carolina, where all African American Marines were sent for basic training . Those Marines became known as Montford Point Marines.

Branch applied for Officer Candidates School, but his application was denied. As fate would have it though, he made a good impression on his commanding officer when he was stationed in the South Pacific and garnered a recommendation to OCS from him. On Nov. 10, 1945 Branch pinned on his second lieutenant’s bars and became the first African American officer in the Marine Corps. This date was significant because it is also the birthday of the United States Marine Corps.

After WWII came to an end, Branch went in the Marine Corps Reserves where he served until the Korean War, during which time he was called to active duty service again. He was promoted to captain and resigned his commission in 1955.

Branch finished a degree in physics at Temple University and used his knowledge to establish a science department at Philadelphia’s Dobbins High School, where he taught until his retirement in 1988.

Today, the Marine Corps recognizes him as a pioneer in integration, and in 1997 Marine Corps Base Quantico Officer Candidates School honored him by naming a building after him — Branch Hall. In 2004 he was recognized for helping to break the color barrier at the 95th annual convention of the NAACP.

“For a person of color to aspire to be an officer in the Marine Corps was a danger,” said Maj. Gen. Cornell A. Wilson Jr. at the 2004 NAACP convention. “We still had Jim Crow laws. We still had unwritten rules and regulations in the country. He could very well have been lynched or injured in some way.’’

Branch died April 10, 2005 and was laid to rest at Quantico National Cemetery next to his wife, Camilla. He was 82 years old when he passed.

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