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Wed, 04.11.2012

Texas A&M Selects Their First Black Commander

Marquis Alexander

*On this date in 2012, the first Black student was appointed Commander of the Texas A&M Cadets. This is nearly a half-century after Blacks were admitted to predominantly white Texas A&M University.

In September, as the next school year began, Marquis Alexander became commander of A&M's Corps of Cadets. This high-profile post 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 opened its doors in 1876. Blacks and women weren't allowed until 87 years later. The first Blacks joined the corps in 1964. The first women cadets came a decade later. By contrast, the 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 former Gov. Rick Perry.  McClure estimated that in 1976, only about 250 Black students were at the school.  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."

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

Alexander, who hopes for a career as a military lawyer or intelligence worker, 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."

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