Paris, January 29, 2008 – Events in South Carolina and the introduction of the race issue into the 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 not very promising material for any other military role.
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 basic infantry training cycle was essential, rather than the 8-week short course where most people with higher qualifications went.
It had been a long drive and the bus had segregated itself – this was still Jim Crow's 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.