ROCKFORD (WTVO) –
The City of Rockford honors a hero. Homer Hempstead made history as the first African American from the Stateline to become a US Marine.
Those hoping to honor the late marine with a small stretch of street got a whole lot more to remember him by.
“It isn’t anyone that can be a first at anything.”, Stanley “Curly” Thompson, President of the National Montford Point Marine Association Chapter 41 said.
The memory of Homer Hempstead, the first African American from the Forest City to join the Marine Corp, is kept alive every time someone drives down the street bearing his name.
“To be the first of thousands who lived in the city of Rockford at that time. To be the first to become a marine is outstanding, and for that we acknowledge him because that is history for the city of Rockford.”, Thompson said.
Hempstead, who passed away in 2015, was part of a group known as the Montford Point Marines. Between 1942 and 1949, about 20,000 African American men trained at Camp Montford Point in North Carolina, becoming the first African Americans in the United States Marine Corp.
Stanley “Curly” Thompson is the president of the Beloit-Rockford chapter of the National Montford Point Marine Association. He says, Hempstead and the Montford Point Marines fought battles over seas and here at home against segregation.
“In spite of all of that, he persevered, and raised his family, and contributed to this nation, serving it in the United States Marine Corp.” , Thompson said.
Thompson brought his idea of renaming a four block stretch of Ogilby Road, near Hempstead’s home, to the Rockford City Council in June. Instead, council voted to rename the entire street.
Alderwoman Venita Hervey along with Stateline politicians Cheri Bustos and Maurice West were among the speakers at the renaming ceremony. Members of the Hempstead family were also on-hand and were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
“Everything was perfect.. From the day, the crowds, the sentiments. I just consider myself so blessed.”. Homer’s Daughter Anita Hempstead Winbush said. She added, “Words can’t even describe how honored we feel.”
The permit for the new street name will last for three years.