At least eight students at The Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina have been suspended after photos of them dressed in white hoods surfaced on Facebook Wednesday night. Though Citadel president Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa was quick to explain the incident as a group of students “singing Christmas carols as part of a ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ skit,” that excuse looks even flimsier when considered in the context of the school’s racist past.
Wednesday night was not the first time Citadel cadets have dressed up like the KKK. The Post and Courier recalls an October 1986 incident in which five white Citadel cadets “entered black student Kevin Nesmith’s room wearing white sheets and towels, and shouting racial insults. They left a charred paper cross in his room.”
According to a Washington Post report about the incident, Nesmith was one of 31 black students in a freshman class of 651. The cadets who terrorized him were not expelled—instead, Citadel officials ordered them “to walk 195 hours of punishment.” Nesmith, however, resigned from school citing continued racial harassment. The NAACP then filed an $800,000 federal lawsuit on Nesmith’s behalf, claiming that “racial bigotry has historically been tolerated and sanctioned by officials at the Citadel.”
Wednesday night’s incident, per Rosa, was just a festive skit about ghosts. Which ghosts?
While Nesmith’s case is perhaps the most high profile example of pernicious racism at The Citadel, The Post and Courier notes that the school has often been a place in which racists feel free to express themselves. In March 2013, for example:
[F]ormer Citadel cadet Jordyn Jackson told The Post and Courier that she was a victim of racial harassment at the military college almost from the moment she walked through its doors the previous fall. She was the target of racial epithets and racist notes, she said. Jackson quit the school rather than endure more insults, she had said.
And last year:
Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby received hundreds of phone and email messages after he asked The Citadel to remove the Confederate Naval Jack flag from Summerall Chapel on campus. Several of the messages from people identifying themselves as Citadel alumni included racial slurs and the use of the N-word.
The Confederate flag still hangs in the Chapel. As recently as 1992, the Citadel band waved it at football games, while playing “Dixie.”
Only this year did the Citadel form a “Diversity Council,” aimed at “promoting a culture of inclusion and equal treatment on campus” for minority cadets, who now make up 22 percent of the student population.
Lamont A. Melvin, chairman of the Citadel Minority Alumni Group, summed everything up, sadly, in a statement yesterday: “Much more needs to be done to address the culture that continues to house recurring prejudices against minority cadets.”