Childhood in Charleston, South Carolina by Vennie Deas, Author and Historian
My childhood, I gave little thought to it until recently. Growing up in the Charleston Westside, during the 1950s and 1960s, I lived in a segregated community. The city was like a patchwork quilt of Black and White neighborhoods. Our community edged along the Ashley River.
At the age of four my parents brought me from the country to live with my mother’s wealthy aunt and uncle, Clara and Alfred Green. Her aunt had stopped working as a maid for an Old Charleston family living along the East Battery. Uncle Al was gone a lot to transport Esso Oil.
I stood in the middle of Aunt Clara’s kitchen floor. It was upstairs in a big Charleston House. The linoleum floor was decorated with large colorful flowers. I was a tiny girl holding the arm of my horseman doll baby, standing next to my small brown suitcase. This would always be a vivid image in my memory. Suddenly looking around, my mama was no where in sight. I never knew my mama not to be there with me. I can’t remember if I cried or not.
My new world was protected from much of Jim Crow. We lived on Sumter Street. It dead-ended into the military college, probably one of the strongest southern
holdings. Those tall stately cadets on occasion would stroll pass my gate, in their confederate gray: they would catch my attention for a moment as I jumped rope with my cousin and other friends. We made our jump ropes, a chain of three leaf clover, tying a stem around each bud. My neighborhood had little to do with that military college, although my strong memory was of the Citadel Homecoming Parade and the big game of the Citadel Bulldogs. The great procession would pass right in front of my house on its way to the Citadel Grounds. Our community was not a part of that annual festivity; we could not help but be excited by gala spectacle.
It was a thrilling sight when the cadets in grey paraded into the Citadel grounds. Down the street, they stepped, marching in manly columns while the band and the Citadel Bagpipers gave them a lively tune. Company by company the cadets filed by with colors to lead them and each company carried a colorful flag. It was impossible, to tell one from the other. They moved like stick soldiers. One occasionally look at me under the dress cap, threatened to break into a grin.
When the last had gone.
The corps come to a halt in ordered position up and down the field; the saluting battery takes the attention. It was composed at The Citadel of two 3-inch guns mounted on 105m howitzer carriages. The 3-inch gun was a limited production model weapon during World War II which was never in wide use as a combat weapon, and since then the war guns had been modified for saluting purposes. Bellows of white smoke fill the lower end of the field when the guns are fired.
I was always startled by the sound of the massive guns. Looking into the sky, I occasionally saw bellows of smoke ascended into the sky.
As the guns finish out their round the president of The Military College of South Carolina with the cadet colonel aboard rides over the parade ground in an open jeep to review the corps. As they approach each unit of men at attention, the company flags are addressed and lowered. Music and maneuvers follow and in time come to a close-an impressive display of discipline.
What a sight! I can even remember the first black cadet marching in the parade one year. What an upheaval at the Citadel—General Mark Clark had resigned as president, when he forced to admit that cadet, the first Negro who attended the Military Academy. On June 30, 1965, General Clark retired from the presidency at his own request. On July 1, 1965 General Clark became emeritus of the College.
The Citadel, founded in 1842 as South Carolina’s state military college, enrolled its first Negro cadet in 1966. His entrance went virtually unnoticed. His name was Charles D. Foster of Charleston routinely went through student orientation and accompanied his mother, Mrs. William Foster, at a reception in Mark Clark Hall. Foster’s battalion assignment made on the basis of height, was 2nd battalion, G. Company. His roommate was David Blake Hooper of Cherry Hill, N.J. Years later, it was written, “excessive cruelty” of Foster cadet life at the Citadel.
A R&R Note: We are fortunate to have acclaimed author and historian, Vennie Deas, as a contributor to the pages of Roots and Recall. Her literary work throughout S.C. and her contributions to numerous exhibits, and publications, marks her as one of S.C.’s authors and story tellers.
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