Texas A&M Cadets to be led by 1st black commander

Apr 12, 2012, 3:04 PM

Associated Press

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) – Nearly a half-century after African-Americans were admitted to predominantly white Texas A&M University, a black student has finally reached the pinnacle of one of its signature organizations.

Marquis Alexander next school year will become commander of A&M’s Corps of Cadets, a high-profile post that involves establishing the cadets’ dress codes for their military-style uniforms and setting their daily schedule, including physical training that can begin before dawn.

“I’m not going to lie. There is a sense of pride that’s there,” Alexander, 22, said Wednesday, standing in front of the “Corps Arches,” an arched brick wall that marks the entrance to the dormitory area for the 2,100 members of the Aggie Corps of Cadets. “I look at it as encouragement to other people to get out and do whatever they want no matter what their background is.”

Texas A&M is about 100 miles northwest of Houston where Alexander, the oldest of 10 children in his family and the first to go to college. Despite recruiting efforts by the school, Houston’s inner-city areas where Alexander grew up in the Third Ward and attended high school in the Fifth Ward typically don’t produce future Aggies, and black students represent less than 4 percent of the 40,000 undergraduate students at the College Station campus.

“A lot of people from that part of town don’t come here,” said Alexander, who already spent a year and a half in the Marine reserves before enrolling at Texas A&M in 2009. “Everyone has their views and I knew what I was coming into when I came here, but it’s been very positive.”

The corps’ racial makeup largely reflects the university, but Alexander suspects that will eventually change.

“We’re working on that,” he said. “We’re growing steadily. I can serve as a testament.”

His first exposure to A&M was during a high school visit. The Corps of Cadets was his group’s first stop and where he got his first “Howdy,” a greeting so synonymous with the school that people who enter an elevator at A&M’s Rudder Tower get an automated “Howdy” over a speaker.

When his acceptance letter from A&M, the only school to which he applied, didn’t arrive promptly, he signed up for the Marine reserves. The acceptance note eventually came but too late to renege on his Marine commitment. A year and a half later, he enrolled.

His continuing duty as a reservist, where he’s a corporal, also makes him the first person with actual military experience to head the corps, whose graduates are outnumbered only by the nation’s military academies in the amount of men and women who head from college to the armed forces. In A&M’s case, however, membership in the corps doesn’t require graduates to join the military, although nearly half do.

He acknowledges becoming the “face of the university” and he hopes to participate in efforts to encourage people from areas like his at home to make something positive of their lives.

“Coming out of that area, you don’t see a lot of success stories,” Alexander said. “There’s not a lot of role models for that particular area. What you see is this guy living on the street or this guy selling drugs or this guy going to go to prison. Things like that. I hope to serve as a beacon of hope that: Hey, you can do this too.”

A number of cadets applied for the commander position for the 2012-13 school year, then underwent scrutiny that included a five-minute presentation before an 11-member panel that included school officials, the reigning corps leadership and the corps commandant, retired Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez.

“This is a young man who has all the right qualities,” Ramirez said. “You can see he has a level of maturity that’s probably not common among the cadets of that same age. He brings a command presence, leadership ability. He’s comfortable speaking. … He looks the part of a leader.”

Texas A&M opened its doors in 1876. Blacks and women weren’t allowed until 87 years later. The first African-Americans joined the corps in 1964. The first women cadets came a decade later. By contrast, rival University of Texas was racially integrated in 1950.

In A&M’s centennial year, Fred McClure won election as body president, making him the first black student to assume the post that’s considered a campus equal to corps commander and Aggie yell leader, a position once held by Gov. Rick Perry. McClure estimated that in 1976, only about 250 black students were at the school.

“I think he and I share the same passion for Texas A&M,” McClure said, referring to Alexander. “It just so happens that we happen to share the same skin color. That’s pretty cool too.”

Albert Broussard, an African-American history professor, said Alexander’s achievement was “an important event but largely symbolic.”

“I don’t want to minimize the importance of this event, but I would not refer to this as a turning point,” he said. “Turning a new page in the long history of this university … would be more appropriate.”

Alexander, who hopes for a career as a military lawyer or intelligence work, said he wasn’t even aware he was the first black cadet commander until someone told him.

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long,” he said. “But I know the corps’ process is that they will always put the best people in the spot. I can honestly say my race didn’t play a factor. I hope it’s because I was legitimately the best person for the job.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump and RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, speak during a press c...
Associated Press

Memphis authorities release video in Tyre Nichols’ death

Video showing Memphis officers beating a Black man was made public Friday after they were charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols.
18 hours ago
Demonstrators stage a rally in front of the White House to celebrate President Joe Biden's plan to ...
Kevin Stone

Lawsuits keeping over 300,000 Arizonans from getting student loan relief

Lawsuits are preventing more than 300,000 Arizonans from having some or all of their student debt dismissed, the Biden administration said Friday.
18 hours ago
FILE -  A Goodyear tire sits on display at a tire shop on Feb. 12, 2014, in South Euclid, Ohio. A f...
Associated Press

Arizona lawyer subpoenaed in criminal investigation of Goodyear tires

A federal grand jury in Los Angeles is gathering evidence in a criminal investigation of Goodyear recreational vehicle tires.
2 days ago
Following days of rain, floodwaters cover streets in the Planada community of Merced County, Calif....
Associated Press

Atmospheric rivers in California boost water allocation for cities

Public water agencies in California will be getting more water from the state because of recent heavy rain.
2 days ago
(Brian Munoz/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)...
Associated Press

FDA declines to regulate CBD; calls on Congress for fix

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday there are too many unknowns about CBD products to regulate them as foods or supplements under the agency’s current structure and called on Congress to create new rules for the massive and growing market. The marijuana-derived products have become increasingly popular in lotions, tinctures and foods, while their […]
2 days ago
FILE - An employee works in the battery assembly hall at the BMW Spartanburg plant in Greer, S.C., ...
Associated Press

US economy slowed but still grew at 2.9% rate last quarter

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy expanded at a 2.9% annual pace from October through December, ending 2022 with momentum despite the pressure of high interest rates and widespread fears of a looming recession. Thursday’s estimate from the Commerce Department showed that the nation’s gross domestic product — the broadest gauge of economic output — […]
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Texas A&M Cadets to be led by 1st black commander