By: Eddie Jackson
Retired Vice President of University Relations
Colleagues of the late U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Eugene Cromartie, who died on Feb. 13, found it hard to believe that he came from an impoverished, segregated environment, in Wabasso, Fla., population still around 600. He walked a dirt road to a one building school with no walls, and had to be careful to stay on the west side of the railroad tracks, lest he falls prey to potential violence at the hands of bigots who roamed over the east side of town.
“A lot of people think that I am the product of the West Point Military Academy with parents who had strong political connections,” He told Ebony Magazine in a 1985 article that celebrated his rise to Commanding General of the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. A position that made Cromartie the top U.S. Army police official in the nation.
The general they knew had earned a reputation as a soldier’s soldier, accomplished and distinguished in appearance with an aristocratic bearing, who always gave priority to the welfare of the troops under his command. They did not know that he had seen his father suffer racial violence searching for work across the tracks, and that his mother earned income by taking in clothes for washing and ironing. They did not know that he made a decision early in life to fight injustice and help change the world by becoming somebody, and making his parents, his church and even his community proud of the man he would become one day.
When he received his commission as a second lieutenant in 1957, there were only two African American generals on the planet, U.S. Air Force, Gen. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. who received his first star in 1954, and Davis’ father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. who retired as an Army brigadier general in 1948. The path Cromartie followed that took him from a deprived environment to a general officer in the U.S. Army began at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU).
Cromartie arrived at FAMU as a 16-year-old freshman in 1953 and promptly took over the place. He served as president of his freshman, sophomore, junior and senior
classes, and lost a race for president of the Student Government Association. But it was the FAMU ROTC program where his star began to shine even brighter. In the summer between his junior and senior years, Cromartie and FAMU cadets joined with black and white ROTC cadets from nearly every state in the nation to participate in Advanced Camp, at Ft. Benning, Ga., in 1956.
The five week course is the capstone training event of the U.S. Army’s Cadet Command. It is a rigorous physical and mental challenge designed to evaluate the leadership potential of the nation’s future officers. During graduation ceremonies, Cromartie became the first African- American to graduate as the top cadet in his Advanced Camp class.
“It was a seminal moment,” said classmate and former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, who attended Advanced Camp with Cromartie. Humphries became the first African American ROTC cadet commissioned in Military Intelligence.
“Cromartie received a Regular Army commission as opposed to a reserve commission, based primarily on his outstanding performance during Advanced Camp.” Humphries said.
Retired Colonel Ronald Joe, a distinguished 1966 graduate of the FAMU ROTC program and a Regular Army Commissioned officer, said that General Cromartie was a giant.
“Someone of his caliber comes along once in a hundred years. From being the first African American to lead his class at Advanced Camp to being the Army’s ‘Top Cop,’ he was the best that we could have asked him to be.” Joe said.
Two viewings are set up for Saturday, Mar. 11, from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., at the Pope Funeral Home facility, 5538 Marlboro Pike, Forestville, MD, 20747. Preparations are underway for internment in Arlington Cemetery with full military honors.