The Citadel plans to recognize its first African-American graduate on Saturday at halftime of its homecoming game, reports the Post and Courier.
At age 17, Charles Foster enrolled 50 years ago at the historic military college in South Carolina as the first Black student. He graduated in 1970 with a business degree and served in the Army. Foster died in a house fire in 1986.
Foster is an unsung hero in the wave of school desegregations during the civil rights movement.
“There were scant news articles about (Foster) at the time, and it wasn’t treated as a big deal at the time,” Lamont Melvin, a Citadel graduate and chair of the institution’s Minority Alumni Association, told the newspaper.
He continued: “There are reports by some that he had struggles after attending The Citadel, and they tend to focus on that. Our position is that he is a trailblazer worthy of recognition by a grateful group of African-American Citadel alumni.”
Foster endured name calling and more intense punishment than other cadets, Dave Hooper, Foster’s first Citadel roommate, told Diverse, a higher education magazine.
In the 2007 interview, Hooper recalled receiving letters warning him against associating with the Black cadet, and upperclassmen urged classmates to pressure Foster to quit.
“In most cases plebes band together. But in this particular situation, I can’t say it happened for Charlie,” he added.
Another classmate, Bubby Kennedy, told Diverse that Foster was a quiet person who became “one of the guys” by senior year. In hindsight, many at the Citadel have said that Foster’s years at the institution was largely uneventful.
But the trailblazer’s brother, William Foster, who’s expected to attend the homecoming event, said Foster received threatening letters and the silent treatment.
The alumni association collected $123,000 to fund The Citadel Foundation minority scholarships in Foster’s name.
“We have some alumni who are frankly disenfranchised, and what we’re trying to do is bring these individuals back to the school,” Melvin stated.
Foster’s recognition, Melvin said, is long overdue, and the association urges the school to do a better job of honoring the contributions of its Black graduates.