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Honor Knows No Race: A Trailblazing Black Marine And An Accomplished GM Career 

Family of GM employee honored at Flint Assembly Plant

Private First Class Morris Ruffin was a United States Marine, a UAW-GM retiree and a dedicated father and grandfather — he was also a military trailblazer for racial equity. 

PFC Ruffin was honored in 2022 with a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal for his dedicated service as one of the first Black Marines in the U.S. The Flint Assembly Plant in Michigan recently hosted a ceremony to honor Ruffin’s legacy and celebrate with his family members. 

Montford Point Marines 

Ruffin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in March 1942, which made him among the first African Americans to serve in the Marines during a time when racial segregation dominated U.S. culture. These members were coined the Montford Point Marines, named for their majority-Black training camp in Jacksonville, North Carolina. 

With many records lost or destroyed, it took immense research for Ruffin’s grandson, Reginald Moore, to uncover his grandfather’s story and recognize the history-making impact he had. 

“It was not until a classmate of mine, whose grandfather was also a Montford Point Marine, reached out that I was made aware of the right people to contact to get my grandfather’s service verified,” said Moore, who is a Marine veteran himself. “I know the process I went through in 1993 to become a Marine, and I cannot begin to imagine the challenges my grandfather went through, especially when those men were set up for failure.” 

While the total count of Montford Point Marines eventually grew to more than 20,000, Ruffin’s enlistment paperwork shows he was part of the very first group of men to break the color barrier in the Marine Corps. In fact, Ruffin took part in clearing the wooded area at Montford Point to build barracks and transform the wilderness into a training camp.  

From military to manufacturing 

After honorable discharge in 1946, Ruffin’s path led him to Flint, Michigan, where he worked in GM plants for 34 years, including at Saginaw Metal Casting Operations and the former Flint V-8 Engine Plant, where Flint Assembly’s Paint Shop now stands. Ruffin passed away in 2004 at the age of 77.  

On April 27, 2022, Flint Assembly honored Ruffin’s legacy by inviting Moore and several other family members to the plant to present them with a dedicated service award on Ruffin’s behalf, which the plant had engraved to mark the occasion. 

Manufacturing senior leadership and UAW leaders from both Local 598, which represents Flint Assembly, and Local 659, which represents Flint Engine, the local that Ruffin was part of, participated in the event as well. 

“It was an honor to host PFC Ruffin’s family,” said Ed Duby, plant executive director of Flint Assembly. “The award we gave on his behalf is just a small token of appreciation from GM and the UAW for 34 years of working hard in our plants. The Montford Point Marines are both trailblazers and unsung heroes, so I hope that by sharing his story we can shine a light on a well-deserving group of veterans.” 

In 2011, the U.S. passed legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to all verified Montford Point Marines. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest expression from Congress of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Earlier this year, Ruffin was posthumously awarded the medal as part of a ceremony at the Montford Point Marine Museum; Moore had the honor of receiving it on his behalf. 

“My grandfather grew up in the Jim Crow era in the south and faced many obstacles, even at a young age,” said Moore. “For me to obtain the Congressional Gold Medal in his honor was a way of paying tribute to him not only as a Marine, but as a steadfast good person who endured much and never backed away from the challenges he faced.” 

Ruffin’s family appreciated GM and the UAW honoring his legacy. 

“My family and I truly enjoyed the plant honoring our father for his military service,” said Margaret Smith, one of Ruffin’s daughters who attended and spoke about her father as part of the ceremony. “The program and award were both beautiful, and everyone we met was so nice.” 

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