For years and years to come, those living their lives in Orangeburg County will be able to look back into our rich and abundant history and see documentations of greatness of its people.
In 2019, many of the media outlets across America, reported the story of the record number of black female cadets graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point. The list that were cleared to graduate was a total of 34.
With this record amount of black women completing such a rigorous course of study, they have all demonstrated great stamina and perseverance. This milestone of achievement by this group caught much attention by the media, black America and especially by the young black women. Seeing that many black females excelling in the military to such a high level clearly reveals the history of the long gray line is not like it used to be.
In a stunning twist to this story of success, it was learned that one of those 34 black cadets had a very close connection with our county of Orangeburg. Cadet Isabella Minter was one of the 34 cadets and is the granddaughter of Mrs. Amie Hampton.
Minter lived with Hampton at an early age and started her education in Orangeburg at Whittaker Elementary School and Robert E. Howard Middle School. While growing up here, little did she know that one day she would go on to attend and graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. And from that achievement, she would be recognized throughout all of the media outlets in America.
From her accomplishment, the name of Cadet Isabella Minter has been added to the list of people with a connection to Orangeburg who attended West Point.
The first linkage to Orangeburg began in 1870, when former Cadet James Webster Smith enrolled.
Smith was the son of Israel and Catherine Smith, who were former slaves in Columbia. When slavery ended, he was offered an opportunity to be educated in Hartford, Connecticut, through the efforts of David Clark, who had agreed to sponsor Smith.
After graduating from Hartford High School in 1870, Smith received an opportunity to enroll at West Point through an appointment from South Carolina Congressional Rep. Solomon L. Hoge.
From 1870 until 1874, Smith fought racial prejudice and bigotry the entire time he was enrolled at the school. He was dismissed from West Point in the spring of 1874 after he failed a test.
When Smith departed West Point, he returned to South Carolina in 1874 to become professor of mathematics and military tactics at the South Carolina Agricultural and Mechanical Institute in Orangeburg. At that time, the school operated from the campus of Claflin University.
In 1876, Smith’s health failed, and he died on Nov. 30. In 1997, James Webster Smith was posthumously honored at a ceremony at South Carolina State University that commissioned him as a second lieutenant.
Another black cadet from South Carolina was appointed again by Rep. Hoge. Johnson C. Whittaker became the second person to depart West Point and end up in Orangeburg. Whittaker attended the University of South Carolina during the years of Reconstruction.
In 1880, he was brutally assaulted and then expelled after being falsely accused and convicted of faking the incident. He was dismissed. After leaving West Point, he became a teacher, lawyer, high school principal, and finally, a psychology professor at what is now South Carolina State University.
Whittaker died in Orangeburg on January 14, 1931, and is buried in the historic Orangeburg Cemetery.
(NOTE: Johnson Whittaker’s son Miller F. Whittaker became the third president of South Carolina State College. Whittaker received a posthumous commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1994.
And then in 2019, Isabella Minter, who received her early education in the schools of Orangeburg, completed her requirements and graduated from West Point. During her mission, Isabella did not know that she was receiving her education in the same buildings, halls and walls that James Webster Smith and Johnson C. Whittaker attempted to complete.
Recently, Minter’s grandmother Amie Hampton spoke about the great accomplishment her granddaughter achieved.
Hampton said, “Isabella attended Whittaker Elementary and Robert E. Howard Middle School in her earlier years while growing up in Orangeburg. She was a very good child and student when she attended school in Orangeburg.
“Every Sunday, I would carry her with me to St. Paul Baptist Church on Windsor Street. Isabella always enjoyed being in church with me.
“After Howard Middle School, she left Orangeburg and traveled as a ‘military brat’ around the world with her family.
“Isabella was always a smart child and would display it everywhere she went. When she graduated from high school in Atlanta, she was one of the students to speak at her commencement. My granddaughter did an outstanding job.
“Before graduating, Isabella had 10 to 12 scholarships from schools all across America. When she informed me that she wanted to attend West Point, I did not want her to go to that military school because I didn’t know anything about it. But I accepted her decision.
“When Isabella told me that she was graduating from West Point, I remembered how excited I was. And when I saw those pictures of her and the other girls she was graduating with on television, I just cried, saying, ‘That’s my granddaughter.’
“She sent me the invitation to attend the graduation, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted to take that long ride to New York. At the last minute, I decided to go and I am glad that I did.
“When we arrived on the campus, she greeted me and said, ‘Oh my God, my grandmother came all the way from South Carolina to see me graduate from West Point.’ We both hugged and cried many tears of joy.
“I was just amazed by the beautiful buildings and sites of West Point. And looking over the Hudson River from the campus, it was just breathtaking.
“Although the trip was long and tiresome, I’m glad I went. It was a most memorable event that I will always cherish. I am so proud of my granddaughter.”
Minter said, “During my junior year in high school, my ROTC teacher talked with me about attending the United States Military Academy at West Point. The more he talked about it, the more I became interested.
“As the time for me to graduate drew nearer, my decision to attend West Point became final. Throughout the total process, I must say my father constantly encouraged and prepared me for the military life that I would encounter in the future.
“He was in the Army for 33 years. After realizing the fact that he had so much military experience, all I needed to do was to follow his advice.
“Now, my mom was just like my grandmother. Both of them was scared for me to go away to a military school. But as I moved from one class to another, they began to let their fears go and encouraged me to advance higher.”
In an interview with Radio.Com in 2019, Minter said, "I thought it was gonna be really challenging or I wasn't gonna be good enough, so I ended up trying to do it because I wanted to challenge myself.”
Minter initially wasn't interested in attending West Point, partially because she was a “city girl,” but also because she didn't see herself reflected in the service academy's student body.
"I didn't see a lot of black women coming to West Point. Having more black women to graduate is really important for representation and to inspire other black girls to know that they can get through this school too," Minter said.
In addition to challenging herself and overcoming some of her fears at West Point, she views her position as a soon-to-be black female Army officer in a unique way.
"It inspires young black girls to know that they can account to more than what society has already scripted them to be," Minter said. "When you see a black woman defying these boundaries, breaking these ceilings, it inspires you just seeing a black woman doing it."
The first black women to complete the rigorous training at West Point were Maj. Pat Walker Locke, and Lt. Col. Joy Dallas in 1980.
Minter will serve as a Signal Corps officer and said, “I have no regrets about my decision, and I am so grateful to belong to the dynamic class of black women who have persevered and endured far more than anyone can truly realize.”
Minter is just another example of the people of Orangeburg who continue to post their marks in this world for the good of mankind.
Richard Reid is president of the Orangeburg Historical and Genealogical Society. His mission is researching Orangeburg history, with a particular emphasis on the role of African Americans in that history.
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