While the lack of diversity in the officer corps is not news, historically Black college and university ROTC programs are making a tremendous impact. Historically Black colleges and universities, some with small enrollments, have produced some outstanding officers, but the contributions of these institutions have been largely ignored.
While approximately 270 colleges and universities have Army ROTC programs, 22 historically Black colleges and universities have supplied half the Black officers in the Army, according to a March 2000 article on the Diverse: Issues In Higher Education website, DiverseEducation.com.
West Virginia State
One of the hidden gems among small historically Black colleges and universities with an ROTC program is West Virginia State University. Its ROTC program has commissioned over 900 cadets and produced 15 general officers. One of them, retired Maj. Gen. Charles Rogers, is a Medal of Honor recipient for his leadership during an intense battle in Vietnam.
This school has produced more general officers than any other ROTC program of its size in the country, according to the school.
The institution was founded in 1890 as one of 19 land-grant institutions authorized by Congress under the second Morrill Act of 1890, which stipulated that military training was a requirement for male students to graduate. The ROTC Department of West Virginia State College launched in 1899.
Military training was conducted during the school’s first year of existence even though no provisions for military training were included in the language of the West Virginia Legislative Act, which established the institution.
The Cadet Bill passed in 1900 by the West Virginia Legislature enabled 60 men to receive free tuition, board, uniforms and books. That program continued until about 1907.
Daniel Lincoln, a former registrar, and Daniel Ferguson, a professor, are the individuals responsible for the current ROTC program. Their success in conducting military training, on a voluntary basis, early in World War II showed the War Department that the college wanted to continue its ROTC program. As a result, continuation of the program was granted.
From 1939 to 1942, West Virginia State College participated in a civilian pilot training program to prepare men for military aviation. Both ground school courses and flying instruction were given at a field adjacent to the college.
In 1942, this institution established a Senior ROTC unit that provided instruction in field artillery. The college had the only program of this kind for historically Black institutions. Artillery was taught until 1956 when this department was redesignated as a General Military Science Program. After that, cadets could receive general military instruction on fundamentals common to all Army branches. This allowed cadets to receive commissions in any branch.
During World War II, West Virginia State College was one of 131 colleges and universities that took part in the V-12 Navy College Training Program, which offered a path to a commission in the Navy. The school also participated in the Army Specialized Training Program, in which active-duty enlisted soldiers came to take accelerated technical courses.
In 1970, ROTC became an elective and ceased to be mandatory for all freshman and sophomore males at West Virginia State. During this time, women were permitted to enroll in ROTC. A cross-enrollment program with other institutions was instituted. This permitted students from close-by institutions without an ROTC program to receive this military training while remaining at their institution of choice.
In 2004, the college attained university status. It continues to produce Army officers.
South Carolina State
Another hidden gem, though one with a much larger ROTC program, is South Carolina State University.
This institution was another byproduct of the second Morrill Act. Founded in 1896, it originally was named the South Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical Institute. It eventually was renamed South Carolina State College and attained university status in 1992.
The school established its Department of Military Science during the 1947–48 school year. The first graduating class in 1949 consisted of six ROTC program graduates: five received Regular Army commissions and one received a U.S. Army Reserve commission.
The Army ROTC program initially commissioned only infantry officers. In 1956, the department was redesignated as a General Military Science Program, enabling graduates to commission in any branch.
In 1968, ROTC became an elective and ceased to be mandatory for all freshman and sophomore men.
South Carolina State University initiated a cross-enrollment program in 1968. Currently, South Carolina State University has cross-enrollment agreements with Claflin University, Voorhees College, Denmark Technical College and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, all in South Carolina.
In 1972–73, the Army initiated, on a trial basis, a five-year program of enrolling women in ROTC. South Carolina State University was one of 10 institutions of higher learning selected to participate in this program. All six women in that initial class who were commissioned achieved the rank of colonel. Altogether, this institution has commissioned 266 female officers.
South Carolina State University’s ROTC program has produced general officers in the Army, Army Reserve and National Guard, and general and flag officers in the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. “The only one [service] that we haven’t broken into is the Coast Guard,” said Lt. Col. Antonio Pittman, who leads the university’s ROTC program.
Since 1949, South Carolina State has commissioned over 2,000 second lieutenants. This institution is the leading producer of minority general officers among historically Black colleges and universities, second only to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
What makes a difference is that “these general officers, these colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, they all come back, they all check in,” Pittman said.
This program also graduated the first Black commander of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, now-retired Maj. Gen. Abraham Turner, and the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, now-retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Fields.
The South Carolina State University ROTC program currently averages approximately 160 cadets and commissions approximately 15 per graduating class per year.
While there is a dearth of minority officers in the Army—service statistics indicate that 11% of the officer corps is Black—historically Black colleges and universities provide quality entry-level officers into the pipeline, and these individuals make a significant impact. These institutions deserve recognition and respect for their contributions to America’s national defense.
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Lt. Col. James Delisi, U.S. Army Reserve retired, served for 26 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and three years on active duty. He then was a Department of the Army civilian for 35 years.