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Kicking and Screaming Into the Present

Book Review

IN GLORY'S SHADOW: Shannon Faulkner, the Citadel and a Changing America; by Catherine S. Manegold; Alfred A. Knopf; $26.95, 336 pages

January 28, 2000|ANTHONY DAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"In Glory's Shadow" is a powerful book that, like a hurricane, grows in force as it proceeds. It is ostensibly about Shannon Faulkner's attempt to become the first female student at the all-male Citadel, the old military college in Charleston, S.C. But it soon turns out that Faulkner is almost incidental to the story that Catherine Manegold, who covered the story for the New York Times, develops in all its Southern gothic intensity.

More than Shannon Faulkner, the subject of the book is the pathetic attempt by a dwindling group of men, trapped in a hopeless backwater of modern American culture, to preserve those beliefs that they held and preached as standards of honor and duty, only to see them crumble into ruined idols of rigidity and the daily practice of downright sadism.

Although Manegold obviously spent much time with Faulkner, the would-be cadet does not come through the book clearly. Why would a young woman put herself through the emotional ordeal of three years of legal wrangling to get into a school that no sensible young man would want to attend?

"I'm not a feminist," Manegold quotes Faulkner as saying. "I am an individualist.

"If you have the ability to do something and you have the quality to do it," Faulkner continues, "then you should do it."

Maybe that's all there is to Faulkner's motivations, and maybe that's enough. Manegold portrays Faulkner as a descendant of a long line of poor working-class white Southerners, worn by labor and undistinguished.

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It was chiefly for the males of that social class that the Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, was founded in 1842, 20 years after the slave uprising led by Denmark Vesey terrified Charleston (where there numbered three black slaves for every white citizen) and 19 years before Charleston's cannons fired on Union-held Ft. Sumter, thus signaling the opening of the Civil War.

Charleston's elite had hoped to train poor boys from upcountry South Carolina to protect them and their property from the slaves. The Civil War, to which so many Citadel men went willingly, would wreck the school, as it ruined the South. It did not reopen for nearly 20 years, and when it did, it was a a bastion of reaction, of mourning for the lost war and vehement opposition to equality for the newlyfreed slaves. Manegold is particularly good at weaving the history of this mediocre school into the history of the South, especially Charleston and South Carolina, which never embraced the New South of Henry Grady of Georgia and similar prophets of post-Civil War progress.

The longer the Citadel clung to the old ways, the harder it was to adjust to the new world. It sent men off to World War I and II, but after the second, the pressures of modern American society began to squeeze. Years earlier, the school had opened its doors to boys of the upper class, and to wear the school's gold ring had for years counted for a lot in South Carolina. It was this allure that attracted students.

In 1954, the Supreme Court struck down segregation in public schools. The Citadel was a public school, and it was of course segregated by race. But the school resisted integration until 1965. Manegold describes in fascinating detail how the school's leaders, frantic to preserve the old ways, began emphasizing "discipline," which turned out to be simple sadism. Boys were routinely and severely beaten and roughly shaved; they served as "rats" or "knobs" for upperclassmen.

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By the time Faulkner applied, enrollment had fallen and standards were dropping. Yet the Citadel, Manegold writes, spent "many millions" on trying to keep Faulkner out. In the end, she was admitted. She lasted one week, mostly in the infirmary, sick and exhausted. Four women entered later; two stayed, two left. Faulkner, who acted as a lightning rod, completed her education elsewhere and is now a schoolteacher.

"In Glory's Shadow" is not so much the tale of one woman's attempt to break an ancient barrier so much as it is a tale of why that barrier was first erected and then maintained, through enormous effort and money, against the modernizing influences of post-World War II America. This is the story of the death struggle of an especially pernicious form of provincialism, and Manegold tells the story superbly.

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