Alumni Did you know: Interesting Facts, History Facts, Honoring Black History…
Citadel of trauma:
The untold story of The Citadel’s first Black graduate-Charles DeLesline Foster
An Overlooked Trailblazer
Also see CABHAA Upcoming event to honor Charles DeLesline Foster. Events page.
Charles Foster was just a seventeen year old Black kid who wanted a college education when he joined The Citadel Corps of Cadets in 1966, says his brother Bill Foster. What he got was a lesson in humility and a place in the history books as the corps’ first Black graduate. “Those four years made him a completely different person—no doubt about it. Charles was intense after he graduated. You could really tell when he talked, especially when he was making a point. His demeanor had changed. I’m sure something happened and it was so traumatic…he refused to talk about it.” Unlike the four women who broke the gender barrier at the 153 year old military college in 1996, Foster carried his burden alone. When the female pioneers entered The Citadel, the world watched. Foster’s arrival thirty years before stirred barely a ripple beyond The Citadel’s iron gates. People didn’t want him there, but accompanied by his brother and mother on his first day, they treated him as any other plebe coming into the system, however, you could tell feelings were hidden. That kind of ambiguity may have been the hallmark of Charles Foster’s four years at The Citadel.
Even today, thirty years after he broke the corps’ color barrier and ten years after he died in a Texas house fire, questions remain not only about the facts of Foster’s Citadel years, but about his place in history, too. “For The Citadel, Charles Foster was the wrong Black guy to be the first, just like Shannon Faulkner was the wrong first women.” From the beginning of his Citadel experience, Charles Foster drew little attention. The great desegregation stories had already been written: James Meredith had already integrated the University of Mississippi; Harvey Gantt of North Charleston had broken the color line at Clemson. Nor were Black students unprecedented at The Citadel. Even before Foster arrived, Blacks had attended summer school at the college. But no Black man had ever been a part of the Corps of Cadets, endured the fourth-class system, or worn the ring.
The college asked the media not to make a big fuss about Foster’s arrival on campus. Reporters agreed to rules designed not to single out Foster. The national media filed low-key stories, then left. A short story about Foster’s arrival, battalion assignment, and roommate appeared in The Charleston, S. C. News and Courier. During Foster’s four years at The Citadel, only two stories, one column and one editorial were written about him locally. The story about the 1970 graduation had one paragraph about the first Black graduate. This lack of public attention meant that Foster’s experience went virtually unexamined for thirty years.
Name-calling was common. Cadets yelled out windows to camouflage the source of the insults. And the abuse didn’t end with his knob (freshman) year. Whatever punishment other cadets received, it was worse for Foster because he was Black. Upperclassman pressured his classmates to pressure Charlie to quit. In most cases plebes band together. But in this particular situation, it didn’t happen for Charlie. Foster was a tough kid and as one cadet put it: I never heard a kid called nigger more in my entire life. During “roving mess,” when the athletes ate with other cadets, freshmen were forced out of their usual seats and had to find another place to eat. It was obvious when Charles was looking for a seat because the chant “rigger, rigger” was heard. According to his brother, Charles received threatening letters, got the silent treatment, and had several brushes with roommates.
Foster survived, but his success was relative. A former honors student at Charles A. Brown High School, his grades at The Citadel were undistinguished. His weight increased by thirty pounds and he never rose above the rank of private. Charles Foster celebrated his graduation in May 1970, then left Charleston and never moved back. He was commissioned an Army lieutenant and spent three years as an explosives expert, most of it at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He never went to Vietnam, and settled in Dallas after leaving the Army in 1973. But success eluded him.
Near the end of his life, Foster was a moving company manager struggling to pay his bills. A burglary conviction in 1985 led to a four month stay in a Texas state prison. He never married and had no children. Charles died with two other men in a house fire on March 29, 1986, outside Dallas. Despite Charles Foster’s role in The Citadel history, no scholarship or building bears his name. There is no mural and no bust.
The school’s tribute to him is an eight inch by ten inch black and white reprint of his senior picture with an inscription displayed in the third floor museum of the Daniel Library. It was unveiled, as a posthumous honor, in 1992.
“I don’t think Charles received the recognition he deserves,” his brother Bill Foster said. “He was a trail blazer, and they always get the shaft.” It took The Citadel twenty-two years to recognize him for his achievement. “The Citadel was Charles toughest challenge,” Bill Foster said. “He won, but never got the prize or the recognition. But he’s still a Citadel man”
Brig. Gen. Henry L. “Hank” Taylor is Vice Director for Logistics, the Joint Staff, Washington, D.C. In this capacity, General Taylor assists the Director for Logistics in developing logistics policy and providing advice to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
General Taylor began his military career in 1968 as a communications specialist in the U.S. Navy. He concluded his naval career in 1972 as an adviser to the South Vietnamese Navy, and in 1973, enrolled in a two-year ROTC program he completed as a distinguished graduate. He entered the Air Force in 1975 and served in a variety of aircraft maintenance positions, from branch to wing levels. In addition, General Taylor spent three years on Strategic Air Commands Maintenance Standardization and Evaluation Team. From a flying position on SACs Airborne Command Post “Looking Glass,” he was assigned to Air University as a faculty member of the Air Command and Staff College. In 1990, he deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield and served as Deputy Commander for Maintenance with the 1702nd Air Refueling Wing (Provisional). The general also commanded the first logistics group to support the B-2 advanced technology bomber, and directed the aircraft and commodities directorates respectively at the Ogden Air Logistics Center, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. read more.. http://www.af.mil/information/bios/bio.asp?bioID=7346