Southern Cultures 11.3 (2005) 35-61
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"An Oasis of Order"
The Citadel, the 1960s, and the Vietnam Antiwar Movement
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| Figure 1 |
When we think of student protest in the 1960s, it's universities like Berkeley and Columbia that spring to mind—not southern institutions, and certainly not military colleges like The Citadel. As it turns out, though, Citadel cadets were not isolated from unrest. Photograph by Russell K. Pace, courtesy of The Citadel.
In the spring of 1970, a few hours before dawn, a car passed through Lesesne Gate and entered The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. The driver was a former cadet who had resigned earlier in the school year for undisclosed reasons. Beside him sat a stack of papers with The Vigil emblazoned across the top of each sheet. For several months, the former cadet and two of his friends from the senior class had collaborated to produce the underground newspaper that exposed the alleged injustices, inequities, and censorship that plagued The Citadel's campus. When the cadets awoke for the 6:30 breakfast formation, they would take copies of the unauthorized publication and read its take on the administration's one-sided views of events occurring outside The Citadel's gates and the regular student newspaper's reluctance to defend students interests. They would see complaints about the poor quality of mess hall food and the double standard separating cadet officers and privates. Although the Vigil, like many aspects of student activism at The Citadel, lacked the scope and longevity of similar ventures at other colleges, the intrigue, rebelliousness, and mystery surrounding the paper fascinated many cadets, and they welcomed each edition. These same qualities appalled the more militarily inclined members of the corps, who saw the publication as seditious, tendentious, and inappropriate for the structured, orderly environment of a military college. School officials agreed and pledged to uncover and expel the Vigil's irresponsible publishers.1
It is not all that shocking that student unrest and underground newspapers came late to The Citadel. Many people see the college as a socially isolated institution, more attuned to the 1860s than the 1960s. In Confederates in the Attic, journalist Tony Horwitz calls the school "arguably the most mummified institution in America." A former faculty member claims that "perhaps more than any other institution of higher education The Citadel best reflects the cultural values of the Old South." Historian Timothy Tyson describes the college as "perhaps the most hidebound institution in tradition-steeped South Carolina."2
Although some depict The Citadel as an institution "locked in pre–Civil War concrete," such assessments constitute a simplistic view of both the school and the South that downplays white southerners' participation in the changes that swept the region in the decades following World War II. Except for mention of the Civil Rights movement, southern colleges and universities are often left out of general discussions about 1960s campus unrest, with Merle Haggard's "Fightin' Side of Me" and "Okie from Muskogee" framing perceptions of the region during this era. Numerous authors have demonstrated the important impact young black southerners had on the antiwar and student movements, but many young white southerners were also swept up in the political ferment of the period—and not just as opponents of "peaceniks" and "integrationists."3
As a military college, The Citadel placed students—the dynamic core of the [End Page 36] national antiwar movement—in a disciplined, structured, and hierarchical environment that personified what many of their dissenting peers opposed. The layout of the campus itself seemed designed to keep student protests at bay. To deliver the Vigil, for example, the driver of the vehicle had to pass a guardhouse and then turn right onto the Avenue of Remembrance, so named in honor of American soldiers who had died while serving their country. Then, as now, first-year cadets had to walk in the gutters along the Avenue, a tradition that not only reminded freshmen of their lowly position among the...