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South Carolina, then and now - International Herald Tribune


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South Carolina, then and now - International Herald Tribune
Topic: History 9:06 am EST, Feb  1, 2008

Events in South Carolina and the introduction of the race issue into America's Democratic presidential primary campaign by the Clintons have brought back some memories of my own about race in South Carolina.

One night in January 1951, I was among a busload of young Georgia recruits and draftees to arrive at Fort Jackson, the big infantry training base near the state capital, Columbia. It was a racially mixed group, uneducated, headed for the infantry because they weren't very promising material.

I was the only one with a college degree, and one of the few who had finished high school. I was with them because I had put my name down for officer candidate school, and for that the full, 16-week-long training cycle was essential.

It had been a long drive and the bus had segregated itself - this was still the Jim Crow South - with blacks in the back and whites in the front. One white guy said in a low voice, "I hear they got [racial expletive] officers in this man's Army. I ain't gonna salute no [expletive] officer!" Other whites muttered agreement.

We arrived late at Jackson and gathered outside the bus. A big, black sergeant strode up to look us over. The guy who wasn't going to salute no black officers was pulling at a cigarette. The sergeant said, "You, there! Eat that cigarette." The recruit managed to get the fire out before he ate the cigarette. It was established who was in charge.
The army had always been a Southern institution, and in 1948 it still was, despite the Civil War. Then Truman made it into the most important instrument of black liberation and social ascension America had seen since Emancipation.

South Carolina, then and now - International Herald Tribune

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