Slavery on Campus, Part 2: The Citadel
Inside The Citadel’s Summerall Chapel
“Some schools, like Washington and Lee University and The Citadel, have maintained a strong emphasis on Confederate heritage while achieving a reputation for academic excellence.”
-Cameron McWhirter, “Colleges Suffer Identity Crisis,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, February 12, 2005
Many U.S. colleges and universities used slave labor on their campuses to erect buildings, serve meals, clean dormitories, and carry out other forms of manual and domestic labor. Similarly, a number of 18th- and 19th-century college presidents, trustees, students, and faculty owned slaves and/or profited from the sale and importation of Black people for slavery.
Few colleges, however, were founded expressly for the purposes of defending and maintaining the institution of slavery. The Citadel, South Carolina’s public military college, is one such institution. Since the mid-1960s The Citadel has regularly made headlines for its reluctance to admit, and for its questionable treatment of, Black students and women. In the mid-1800s The Citadel was noted for the vehemence with which it’s cadets and alumni defended the institution of slavery, a purpose for which the institution, founded as the Military College of South Carolina, was created. The Citadel library website explains the relationship between the fear of slave insurrection and the early history of the institution:
“By winning the lottery Denmark Vesey was able to buy his freedom and become self sufficient and influential. By being self sufficient and influential he had the resources to plot an insurrection. The insurrection that almost took place put fear in the hearts of the planters. The fear of another insurrection caused the planters to establish a municipal guard. The expense of a municipal guard caused the planters to look for a cheaper alternative. The cheaper alternative was a body of cadets. Ergo, the Corps of Cadets and The Citadel were established. The Citadel came into being because a poor slave purchased the winning ticket to a lottery. (Source: HN.) For an interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly published in 1861 click Atlantic Monthly.. ”
– from the Research Assistance/Knob Knowledge website of The Citadel campus library.
In this excerpt from his address at the 2006 inauguration of The Citadel’s current president, Clemson history professor Rod Andrew Jr. describes how cadets at The Citadel and other southern institutions took their pro-slavery partisanship to the national stage during the Civil War when large numbers of students and alumni joined and fought with the Confederate army:
As the Civil War approached, however, they showed that, while preaching patriotism and public service, they could also represent the forces of tradition and conservatism. As sectional tensions mounted in the 1840s and 1850s, southerners scrutinized all their institutions for their ability and willingness to defend southern “rights” if necessary, including the “right” to own slaves. Southern military colleges proved faithful to the states who bore them, purging their curricula of texts that might encourage abolitionism. When the guns fired at Fort Sumter in 1861, Citadel cadets were there, pulling the lanyards, following their governor’s orders, determined to show that they were willing and able to defend the southern version of republicanism. Teenaged cadets from VMI, The Citadel, the University of Alabama, and Georgia Military Institute fought bravely, and tragically, in the Civil War. Hundreds of alumni from these schools, especially VMI and The Citadel, volunteered as Confederate officers, proving that patriotism, state loyalty, and service were not empty words to military school graduates.
– How Much is Still Relevant? The Citadel and American Military Traditions in the Nineteenth Century. Speech delivered by Rod Andrew Jr., Associate Professor of History, Clemson University for the President’s Inaugural Celebration at The Citadel, in April of 2006.
Today The Citadel continues to struggle with its history of pro-slavery partisanship and Confederate loyalty. As recently as 1992 Black and white cadets were embroiled in conflict over the use of “Dixie” as the institute’s official fight song, and in 2000 Citadel cadets were entrusted with the handling of the Confederate battle flag after it was lowered for the last time from the South Carolina Statehouse. Although these overt symbols of Confederate and pro-slavery loyalty have been officially abandoned, the image of the gentleman officer as white, southern, and male, maintains a prominent place in the hearts and minds of many in the Citadel community. Until that ideal has been abandoned for a more inclusive vision, The Citadel will continue to make headlines, and for all the wrong reasons.
To reach The Citadel’s official website, click here.
Posted by Ajuan Mance