KKK Christmas Party Continues Tradition Of Racism At The Citadel
Citadel cadets posing in costumes that resemble the Ku Klux Klan
By Barney Blakeney
Since its inception The Citadel, South Carolina’s military college, has been a fortress protecting the institution of racism. So to many it came as no surprise last week when images of cadets posing in costumes resembling those of the Ku Klux Klan surfaced on social media.
The Citadel was established in 1842, some 20 years after the discovery of Denmark Vesey’s plot to free Black slaves in Charleston. Upon its discovery Vesey and 34 others were hanged and their bodies publicly displayed to terrorize the slave population.
The South Carolina Legislature imposed laws to limit the activities of Black slaves and created The Citadel as a paramilitary arm to enforce compliance and to deter any future slave rebellions. The Citadel’s purpose was to protect the institution of slavery and racism.
In 1966 Charles Foster, a graduate of the former C.A. Brown High School became The Citadel’s first Black cadet. He broke the racial barrier that previously prevented Blacks from attending the institution, but the cycle of racism at The Citadel never was broken.
By 1970 only three Blacks had been admitted to The Citadel’s Corp of Cadets - Charles Foster, Joseph Shine and Eddie Addison.
The 1970-71 class was the first to admit more than one African American. Charleston dentist Dr. Larry Ferguson was among them. There were 16 African American cadets in the corp in 1970. Shine and Ferguson founded The Citadel African American Society during the 1970-1971 school year. “We were on the cutting edge of segregation at the time,” Ferguson said in a 2002 interview.
Former White House aide and Hillary Clinton’s South Carolina presidential campaign director Clay Middleton was a president of the society.
A 2003 graduate, Middleton said his four years at The Citadel were challenging. Middleton said his roommate felt comfortable with the Confederate Flag as a screen saver on his computer though they shared the same space. And his cadet group, Company-Kilo had the nickname K-K-Kilo. Reminders of the institution’s history and purpose were constant and included the playing of ‘Dixie’ regularly.
Middleton remembers that nooses have been found in some Black cadets’ room over the years and he recalls the treatment of subjugation suffered by Black employees at the campus. There are a few Black employees among the faculty and staff in positions of note, but most are custodial, kitchen or maintenance workers.
Currently only about eight percent of cadets at The Citadel are Black. Lt. Col. Robert Pickering is director of Multicultural Student Services and International Studies at The Citadel. One of Pickering’s jobs is to work with academic departments and the director of Cadet Activities to design and provide programs that promote diversity among the campus’ constituents. Middleton says that must happen if The Citadel is to move beyond its racist tradition.
In the wake of the KKK costume party cadets insist was a spoof about Christmas ghosts, the local chapter of the National Action Network has called for the cadets’ expulsion and the resignation of Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa. Chapter President and NAN S.C. State Coordinator James Johnson said in the aftermath of the June 17 massacre of nine Black worshipers by a white supremacist gunman at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the cadets antics are proof that much of the talk about love and unity among the races is just lip service.
The racism exposed at The Citadel is more evidence of the culture of racism that exists throughout the community, he said. At the institution where leaders in business and the military are trained, the tradition of racism only will end when the corp of cadets and staff at The Citadel reflect true diversity, he said.