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Breaking Barriers: Marine Corps Promotes First African American Four-Star General in 246-Year History

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Editor-in-chief of The International Telegraph

WASHINGTON — This year alone, numerous promotion ceremonies have taken place within the military—on army bases, aircraft carriers, and even atop an escarpment overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy. However, a historic event transpired on Saturday: Gen. Michael E. Langley, 60, became the first African American Marine to receive a fourth star, marking a monumental accomplishment in the Corps’ 246-year history. As a result, he now belongs to the Marine Corps’ top echelon as one of only three four-star generals.

In an emotional occasion at the Marine Barracks in Washington, General Langley, who is set to lead the United States Africa Command, acknowledged the significance of his promotion. Until now, the Marine Corps had never awarded a fourth star to anyone other than a white man. General Langley paid tribute to the Black Marines who preceded him, referencing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s order to desegregate the Marine Corps during WWII. Among the Marines named were Frank E. Petersen Jr., the first Black Marine Corps general, and Ronald L. Bailey, the first Black commander of the First Marine Division. Both men ultimately attained the rank of lieutenant general.

General Langley’s promotion has electrified the community of Black Marines. Many greeted him at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia on Thursday when he arrived to collect new uniforms for his forthcoming assignment in Stuttgart, Germany, which serves as Africa Command headquarters.

This long-awaited step for the Marine Corps is significant. Since admitting African American troops in 1942, becoming the final military service to do so, fewer than 30 have achieved any form of general officer rank. None were promoted to the highest four-star rank, a distinction conferred upon 73 white men up until now. Seven African Americans received the lieutenant general rank, or three stars, while the rest earned one or two stars, typically in fields not associated with the highest leadership roles in the Marine Corps, such as logistics, aviation, and transport.

Having commanded every echelon from platoon to regiment throughout a distinguished 37-year career, General Langley now brings extensive experience to his new role. With overseas deployments in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Okinawa under his belt, he has also held senior staff positions at the Pentagon and the military’s Central Command, overseeing operations in the Middle East.

The lack of diversity among Black Marine generals gained attention after a 2020 New York Times article. When questioned about this disparity, General Berger cited the high caliber of military personnel, stating, “For every 10 we pick, every 12, we could pick 30 more—every bit as good.”

Remarkably, General Langley’s great-uncle was one of the Montford Point Marines, the first Black Marine Corps recruits to enlist after the Corps began admitting African Americans in 1942. These trailblazers trained separately from their white counterparts at Montford Point in North Carolina, away from Camp Lejeune. It took Roosevelt’s executive order to convince Marine Corps Commandant Thomas Holcomb to admit Black men into the service. Infamously, Holcomb once declared, “If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites.”

With General Langley now among the institution’s top brass, the Marine Corps’ outlook on diversity appears to have evolved. “Mentally we have learned that there’s greater value in the collective than just the monolithic perception of what the makeup of the Marine Corps is,” he stated. He hopes that Black Marines will view the Corps as a place where they are no longer obstructed by a glass ceiling.

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