Black, white, and olive drab : military-social relations during the Civil Rights movement at Fort Jackson and in Columbia, South Carolina

Myers, Andrew Herbert, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Gaston, Paul, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Balogh, Brian, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Lichtenstein, Nelson, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Perdue, Charles, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

In September 1950, Fort Jackson became the first Army post in the United States to integrate racially on a large scale. This dissertation explores that event and its ramifications for the neighboring city of Columbia, South Carolina. Spanning the years 1940 to 1970, this local study analyzes what effect armed forces integration at the post had upon the surrounding civilian community in terms of desegregation of schools, buses, public facilities, and housing.

Fort Jackson ultimately had a limited influence on the civil rights movement in Columbia. Other than in 1950, Army leaders at the post chose not to disrupt the local white power structure or the Pentagon bureaucracy by taking bold steps to achieve racial justice. Mindful of South Carolina congressmen, they developed close ties with white business boosters and worked to prevent soldiers from causing disturbances in town. They allowed black military families to live in substandard civilian housing and send their children to inferior county schools. Initiatives taken at the federal level by the Department ofDefense to remedy this situation failed. African-American soldiers occasionally mounted protests, but they rarely joined activist groups or fought for their rights in an organized way.

Blacks in Columbia did not see the opportunity that presented itself after 1950. Their blindness arose in part because many civil rights leaders remained bitter about the injustices that had taken place at Fort Jackson during World War II, because the structure of local military-social relations served to exclude African Americans, and because the rigid class hierarchy of the local black community prevented civilians from making common cause with soldiers.

The case of Fort Jackson and Columbia demonstrates how social change could occur through decisive leadership and the exercise of secrecy. The example also shows how those same factors could serve to thwart further change. Additionally, it highlights the tragic results of lingering segregation in the National Guard and Reserves and how the Vietnam War helped to undermine many of the gains that African Americans made during the previous decade. Most ofall, this dissertation makes apparent the power of the vote.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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