The racial strife and week-long demonstrations at Clemson University alleging racism and discrimination, coupled with administrators struggling to find ways to meet demands of small groups of students remind me of the contrast with “Old Clemson College” of the 1950s.
Clemson was created as an all-male military college with a proud heritage to provide educational opportunities for rural children of modest means. It was an agricultural and mechanical college that in the 1940s and 50s featured mostly agricultural and textile graduates. Clemson provided more commissioned officers for World War II than all the US military academies combined. Freshmen from as far away as New York City were required by their upper classmen to become conversant in the history of Clemson and South Carolina. Discipline was administered to students by students with minimum supervision and guidance from the college administration.
Hazing was not only permitted, it was a daily occurrence.
All students wore uniforms and followed the same rules.
No freshmen left the campus until Thanksgiving. By that time, a large number of freshmen had dropped out of the school.
It was painful and frustrating, but it built character. The system revealed the real person in the uniform. Freshmen learned quickly which upper classmen were trustworthy and which were sadistic and untrustworthy. Those reputations followed them into adulthood.
There was a bond between Clemson graduates in those days that is not seen today. They had endured and passed the test. They had observed each other under severe duress. They had learned to lead and to follow. They had learned to be punctual and dependable.
Clemson was not a national football presence in those days, but to Clemson students, graduates and other fans, Clemson was the best.
No one was more Southern than coach Frank Howard. He was classic: tough as nails with a heart of gold.
Coach Howard liked to brag on his team members. I roomed one year with a very smart pre med student named Frank Denton. Howard would put Denton on the field for at least one play per game. The State paper liked to degrade the Clemson football team. One day Howard decided to respond. He held a news conference and announced to the reporters: “Some of you boys think the Clemson football team is a bunch of dummies. We got smart boys on this Clemson team. I want you to meet some of my straight ‘A’ students. Frank Denton and Tom Barton!”
In the 1940s and 1950s there were wooden bleachers on each side of the football field. The team was led on the field by a huge Confederate battle flag as theTiger band played Dixie.
I graduated from Clemson as the Korean war ended and reported for active duty 16 days later. I was not able to return to the campus until the 1960s during the Vietnam War. I was saddened by what I observed. The majestic white columned barracks had been torn down. Clothing was hanging out of windows, paper cups on window sills. Shaggy hair and sloppy dress everywhere one looked. I didn’t return to the campus for another decade till my youngest son was a student.
Danny Ford and his team defeated Ohio State and Nebraska, won a national championship and put the University on the athletic map. Then he was fired.
The University integrated with honor and now the minority students apparently want to change Clemson to their liking, as the administration strives to be politically correct taking on every fad from Global Warming to multiculturalism.
Why can’t we just let Clemson be Clemson. It was once a “heck of a place.”