As the official 100th anniversary of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps approaches, military members around the nation today are celebrating the birth of a Republican senator whose law helped plant early seeds for the ROTC.
Justin Smith Morrill was born on this day in 1810. It was his law, the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, that formed an early version of the ROTC. As a federal requirement, the colleges would only be established if they featured a military training component. This isn’t the only root connected to the forming of the ROTC but it is considered the most significant.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Defense Act which made the ROTC official and bolstered the nation’s military exponentially. Today, there are 24 active ROTC programs at HBCU’s, and over 300 such programs across the United States, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
Many Black military notables founded their careers on the heels of ROTC training. These individuals include 4-Star Gen. Dennis L. Via, the 7th Black general to receive the ranking. Retired Gen. Colin Powell also went through the ROTC onto a stellar and history-making career. Retired Lt. Gen. Henry Doctor Jr. is another trailblazing military man who benefited from the ROTC.
Maj. Gen. Marcia Anderson, the first Black female two-star general, is a former member of the Corps. And outside of the military, veteran actor James Earl Jones and Black Enterprise founder and publisher Earl Graves Sr. were part of the ROTC before their respective careers took shape.