Captain Frederick C. Branch: The First African American Commissioned Officer in the USMC

Written by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

The National Archives holds thousands of photographs illustrating the various activities of servicemen and women in all branches of the Armed Forces. The photographs are able to give visuals of the bravery and sacrifice that men and women in the military made during their service.

In several of the series, there are images of lesser known military heroes whose stories deserved to be acknowledged. One such person is Frederick C. Branch, the first African American commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

After receiving a draft notice in May 1943, Branch reported to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where he was inducted into the Marines. He was one of the first African Americans selected into the USMC after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which allowed black men to join the corps. Branch’s service and commitment during World War II, earned him at place in the officer’s training program. On November 10, 1945, Branch was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Branch would later achieve the rank of Captain in 1952.

The image below is from the General Photograph File of the U. S. Marine Corps, 1927-1981 (NAID 532396) series. This series was created by the USMC to capture the history of the Corps’ activities from early campaigns during World War II to battles in the Vietnam Conflict. It also contains images of African American Marines in wartime activities. The selected photograph shows Branch’s wife, Camilla, admiring his second lieutenant’s bars in 1945.

“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.”, 11/1945 NAID 532577

Over the years, Branch has received numerous awards and honors. In 1995, the Senate passed a resolution to honor his contribution to the integration of the USMC. Additionally, an officer candidate training school in Virginia, and several scholarships were named after him.

The series Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, 1982-2007 (NAID 6274097), created by the Defense Visual Information Center to collect a visual record of military activities for publicity purposes, contains photographs of servicemen and women at various functions representing the Armed Forces. The photograph below shows Branch and his wife, at the dedication ceremony for Branch Hall at the Officers Candidates School, Marine Corps Combat Development Command in 1997.

Mr. Frederick Clinton Branch cuts the ribbon and officially dedicates Branch Hall at the Officers Candidates School, Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Mr. Branch is now a retired educator living in Philadelphia. Assisting Mr. Branch are his wife; Brig. GEN. E. C. Kelly, Commanding General (left); LT. GEN. P. K. Van Riper, Commanding General Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and COL. A. Davis, Commanding Officer of the Officers Candidate School, 07/09/1997 NAID 6501401

2 thoughts on “Captain Frederick C. Branch: The First African American Commissioned Officer in the USMC

  1. OUTSTANDING and much CONGRATULATIONS to SIR Frederick C. Branch and his family: and sincere appreciation to the USMC and the National Archives Records Administration for the duality educating many of about another barrier breaker; who LOVES our great country. From this Navy Vet
    Marvin S. Robinson, II
    Quindaro Ruins / Underground Railroad-Exercise 2015

  2. In hours of research about my fellow Marine Captain Branch, I read a Marine Corps Historian’s account that stated ” a bunch of white Marines said upon Branch’s Commissioning, We ain’t taking no orders from no Nigger.” Further it was written Branch was immediately demoted to inactive Reserve Status. I pray this was not the case. Former Lcpl.USMC Steve McGowan Close friend of Major Kurt Lee USMC and Col. Archie Van Winkle USMC. Lee was the first Chinese/American Commissioned in the Corps. He passed on 3-3-14 Navy-Cross Chosin Reservoir. Col. Van Winkle my last C/O 1972. Medal of Honor Chosin Reservoir. Passed 1986.
    Semper-Fidelis Capt. Branch ! They do allow Marines in Heaven.

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