Harris M. Ginyard, 93, of Turnersville, NewJersey, a member of the Montford Point Marines, the first blacks to join that branch of the armed forces during World War II, died of pancreatic cancer at his home Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
An avid golfer, Mr. Ginyard was a founding member of the now-closed Freeway Golf Course, the first black-owned golf course in the country, said Wilson Brewster, who served on the club’s board of directors.
Mr. Ginyard invested $10,000 in the venture, a sprawling 150-acre property in Sicklerville, N.J., that became the site of major golf tournaments, according to his son. The 18-hole course opened in 1967 and became a popular place for black golfers who were often excluded from other clubs in the area.
“It was hard for them to find a place to play golf, get a good tee time,” Brewster said. “So they put their money together and opened their own.”
The course was frequented by prominent golfers, including Jim Dent, Lee Elder, Calvin Peete, Charlie Sifford, and Jim Thorpe. It hosted the inaugural Sammy Davis Jr. Open, which became the PGA Tour’s Hartford Open.
Its fortunes declined, and in 2016, the course was closed and put up for sale for $2.4 million. A sale is pending, Brewster said. Freeway was a model for other black-owned, -operated, and -managed golf courses, according to the African American Golfer’s Digest. There are 13 such courses in the country today.
Mr. Ginyard was among the first black Marines, about 400, including 20 or so from the Philadelphia area, who were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012. The group jumped at the chance to enlist after President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1941 requiring the military to recruit African Americans.
“Not a lot impressed him, but that did,” recalled his son William.
He also received a special recognition award from former CIA Director David Petraeus in 2012.
After graduating from high school in 1942 in Winston-Salem, N.C., Mr. Ginyard enlisted in the Marines at age 18, his son said. He underwent basic training at the segregated Montford Point Camp in North Carolina, where black recruits trained under poor conditions. About 20,000 African Americans received basic training at Montford Point between 1942 and 1949, when the camp was closed.
Harris M. Ginyard. (Montford Point Marine Association)
He was sent to the Panama Canal and later Hawaii, where he was assigned to a unit that handled supplies, according to the Philadelphia Chapter of the Montford Point Marine Association. He accepted a position to run the commissary.
“Another proud Marine, as all these Montford Point Marines are,” said Joe Geeter, a former president of the Montford Point Marine Association. “He was a Marine through and through.”
Mr. Ginyard was discharged in 1945 and settled in West Philadelphia. He went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a porter and there met his future wife, who worked at a drugstore at 30th Street Station, their son said. He spent about 30 years at the railroad. For many years, Mr. Ginyard also worked a second job at Bell Telephone Co. in Philadelphia as a facilities manager.
“He loved God, he loved his family, and he loved the Marines,” said his son, William. Always well-dressed, Mr. Ginyard took his sons to Boyds in Philadelphia for their suits, he said.
Although he officially retired in the 1990s, Mr. Ginyard continued to work at an assisted-living facility as a security guard until about five years ago, when he stopped working to care for his ailing wife, his son said.
William Ginyard said his father moved the family to nearby Turnersville, New Jersey in 1972 because of his involvement with the golf course.
Mr. Ginyard was a member of the Philadelphia Montford Point Marine Association, St. Matthew’s Baptist Church in Williamstown, the Prince Hall Masons, and the Young and the Restless Club in Williamstown, a retirees’ social club.
Besides his son William, Mr. Ginyard is survived by sons Bobby, Harris, and Kevin; a daughter, Donna McLaughlin; 10 grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren. His wife of 52 years, Evon, died in 2015.
Family and friends may call Thursday, July 6, from 9 to 10 a.m. at St. Matthews Baptist Church, 245 Glassboro Rd., Williamstown, where services will be held at 10. Interment will be at Gloucester County Veterans Memorial Cemetery, Williamstown. Condolences may be left at www.mcgfuneral.com/obituaries/Harris-Ginyard.
Memorial donations may be made to the Montford Point Marine Memorial Project, 824 Gum Branch Rd, Suite M, Jacksonville, NC 28540 or visit www.montfordpointmarines.com.