Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Slavery on Campus, Part 2: The Citadel

April 28th, 2007 by Ajuan Mance

Inside the Summeral Chapel

 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

Posted in African Americans, Black History, Higher Education, My Favorite Blogs, race, racism, Slavery, The Citadel

9 Responses

  1. Paul J Passaro

    The Citadel is firmly established as an outstanding academic college…The Citadel mystique has been chronicled by several authors…Pat Conroy the most recent….

    The few the proud the Corps of cadets…the only academic environment that continues to instill not only academic learning but includes in that process the principles of duty honor country.

    Please continue to write the mystique becomes more relevant and indeed more powerful

    Paul J Passaro Class of 60

  2. Glen Baldwin

    I read with humor your efforts to link The Citadel college with slavery and racial seggregation in the South. The Citadel was a building in Charleston first built to house arms and munitions that had been scattered around the state – as was the Arsenal in Columbia. The first guards were not state militia, but federal troops. These were asked to leave during the Nullification Crisis in 1830s. The Citadel as a college or educational institution was not founded until 1842 – twenty years after the Vessy incident in Charleston, and long after fears of rebellion of slaves had subsided. Its creation as an educational institution had nothing to do with slavery. The Citadel Academy and its sister institution the Arsenal in Columbia were created to provide poor rural white boys a free education – in return for which they had to return to their counties and teach. The Legislature and Governor did this after seeing the success of Virginia in forming its military institute in 1839 (now known as VMI).

    The students entering the old Citadel Academy and the Arsenal Academy were mostly 14 and 15 year olds – hardly old enough to constitute a militia guard against slave rebellions.

    As far as admission of African Americans – The Citadel was no different than all other public colleges in SC or the South – subject to the whims of the state legislatures and their directives. The first African American was admitted in 1966 and graduated in 1970. Since then hundreds of fine young men (and now women) who happen to be African Americans have attended and graduated from this fine institution that has contributed its sons to fight for America in all of its wars – starting with the Mexican War of 1846.

    So please get your facts straight before using the good names of institutions to serve your own agendas.

  3. Helena H.

    It is a shame that part of the Citadel’s ‘majesty’ is rooted in the South’s hurtful past. An example of this is the continued use of the confederate flag as a symbol of honor and pride. This flag suggests a history of racism, control-by-fear, and violence…NOT honor.

  4. jessecuster

    Helena –

    Did you not read any part whatsoever of the two comments above yours?

    Also, in case you hadn’t realized it, display of the Confederate battle flag on campus is actually pretty heavily against the rules, under normal circumstances. As is playing ‘Dixie,’ or ‘Bonnie Blue Flag,’ or any of a thousand other symbols of the history of the south.

    The only Confederate battle flag shown publicly anywhere on campus (except perhaps the museum … haven’t seen that in ten years or so) is the one in the Summerall Chapel, shown above. And it’s shown right alongside every single flag that’s flown over South Carolina, as well as every single flag of every single state in the Union.

    Seriously, Helena, get over yourself. You don’t have to hunt for racism in everything. I guarantee, if you’re looking that hard for it, you’ll find it… even if you have to make it up. This goes for the author of the article, as well.

    JC, Citadel class of ’99

  5. Keith Pereira

    I would simply ask that you research, David Rawlinson. An African-American, Honors graduate of The Citadel, distinguished graduate of Harvard Law School, Citadel Class of 1998, and most recently a White House Fellow. If you asked, I am very certain he would tell you that The Citadel contributed in many ways to his success as a student, lawyer, citizen, and African-American.

  6. Ajuan Mance

    Hi Keith,

    Thank you for your recommendation. I am always looking for interesting and exciting Black scholars to profile on my site. The Citadel of the late 20th and early 21st centuries is a very different place than the Citadel of pre-1970s America, and I have no doubt that, as we move into the 21st century, increasing numbers of African Americans are finding not only solid academics, but a more and more welcoming environment on that historic campus. It is remarkable and praiseworthy (and ironic) change.

    The troubling experiences of the Citadel’s first Black graduate still loom large over the institutions past, and the Confederate flag is a reminder of the institutions lengthy and troubled history with relationship to race; but as greater numbers of Black people find success and camaraderie at the Citadel, such memories and symbols will likely be upstaged by the present relatiy of race relations there.

  7. m mcgee

    The Citadel….I went there for a year….what a joke….academics were not excellent….they got instructors that could not get a job teaching anywhere else…. what a waste of a school….and the knob year expect C’s and D’s for grades…..because of the harassment.

  8. Ben C

    m mcgee–

    If you only went there for a year then you have no idea what it’s really about. It’s a 4 year system, not one. It’s a matter of time management, any alumnus/alumna will tell you that. I found excellent professors and terrible professors, just like any other school. If you actually made it through the school, perhaps then you would have the right to complain and put it down. But as it stands……you don’t.

  9. School Searching

    I just went there over the weekend with my daughter who is a Junior to take a look at the school. We were stared at, not spoken to, and generally ignored. And to the person above, the Dixie song is still played!! During the parade they have…everyone stands up and claps and cheers also. Very disturbing. I was very discouraged. And they have books written by women who have attended in the last 5 years and the harassment and gender discrimination is not something I want my child to experience. Each school is not for everyone.