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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Before diner sit-ins, bus boycotts, and “I have a dream,” Corporal Raymond J. Williams served as part of the Montford Point Marines, the first group of African-Americans to enter the United States Marine Corps.

On Saturday, Williams was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor, for his service.  The ceremony took place at the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve building on South Memorial Parkway in Huntsville.

Despite his part in making history, Williams never dreamed he would receive such an honor.

“I was so surprised to see many people come here and celebrate this moment with me,” said Williams. “I am proud to be a Marine.” 

Williams enlisted on August 16, 1946. He received basic training not at the traditional facilities, but at Montford Point, a segregated training facility. A year later he was assigned to Onslow Beach at Hadnot Point,  as part of the first integrated Marine unit. It was there he was trained in anti-aircraft combat.

In 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order ending segregation in the Marine Corps.