Black, White, and Olive Drab: Racial Integration at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and the Civil Rights Movement

Article excerpt

Black, White, and Olive Drab: Racial Integration at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and the Civil Rights Movement. By Andrew H. Myers. (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006. Pp. vii, 287; $39.50, cloth.)

Historians of the South, who generally have been neglectful in examining the limits of the civil rights movement, often emphasize the role played by the U.S. armed forces in dismantling Jim Crow. In recent years, however, scholars have drawn on failures in Vietnam and the so-called War on Terror to argue that the expansion of the military has increased inequality at home. In this study of Fort Jackson and its relationship to South Carolina's capital city of Columbia, Andrew Myers uncovers many nuances in the story, which will force researchers to rethink their assumptions. Specifically, he uses the history of racial integration at Fort Jackson to explain how post officials navigated the complex and competing politics of white municipal leaders, state assemblymen, federal legislators, black activists, and officials at the War Department and the White House.

Black, White, and Olive Drab distinguishes itself by superbly situating Fort Jackson in the political and historical context of Columbia. Rather than presuming the military to be an overwhelming force in the city, Myers shows how Fort Jackson added economic resources and jobs to an already diversified economy that included textiles, the State House, and the University of South Carolina. The author also demonstrates persuasively that South Carolina's local, state, and Congressional office-holders exerted power and influence over the War Department and the commanders of Fort Jackson. The U.S. Army's influences on the region were mitigated by powerful local forces that opposed any challenges to its New South economic policies and its commitment to white supremacy.

In many ways, the U.S. Army shared racial beliefs with the local white elite, as the army initially excluded black soldiers from the infantry and kept them in menial jobs. After World War II, these policies became untenable and military officials began integrating the fighting forces. Despite these changes on post, Fort Jackson's commanders were aligned with Columbia's white leaders. Therefore, the post commanders' loyalties required careful political maneuvers. On the one hand, they were required to enforce Harry Truman's Executive Order 9981, which desegregated the armed forces. Moreover, they instituted these new rules in the face of the Korean War, as the War Department greatly expanded Fort Jackson to meet the needs of the war effort. But even as post commanders integrated infantry forces as ordered, they made sure that the local media did not publicize the changes. …