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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986. Interview C-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Growing up in an integrated neighborhood in Charleston

Gantt remembers growing up in an integrated neighborhood in Charleston, South Carolina. He and white children played together without incident, and he enjoyed a typical childhood, complete with stickball and nurturing neighbors.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986. Interview C-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Can you talk a little about the social atmosphere in Charleston in the '50s when you were growing up?
Changing! You know, for the first ten years of my life I paid no attention to it. The things that happened around me were accepted. From our little house that my father built, I would walk past an elementary school—I mean, I'd walk up to the corner and I'd look to my left and there was a white elementary school, but I would turn to my right and go four or five blocks to a black elementary school. But they looked no different in my opinion and I thought nothing of it except that that's the way things were. If my mother took us on Saturdays shopping, we got on the bus, we as young kids would go to the back of the bus and we wouldn't question that too much at all. When we got to water fountains, we were taught early on that you drank from the colored fountain because white folks drank from the other one. So in other words, the world was made up a certain way. We lived generally in an integrated neighborhood. It was very strange. There were white people nearby and numbers of cases on the playgrounds without sanction we'd end up playing together. The law, we later found out, did not really allow that but kids would do it anyway, basketball …
Charleston is a city of alleys, isn't it?
No, really it's a city where servants lived closer to the bigger houses and then they live along the alleys. Traditionally that's the way it is, not the alleys, of course, are just as expensive, in fact chic, in terms of having higher income units, or high income units. In the old days, the way the city was laid out, is you had the big houses around the Battery and lots of little, small alleys that were servants' quarters. That's how you got the kind of pattern of integration that occurred in many of the Southern cities like New Orleans and Charleston and Mobile. At any rate, at that time we lived not in that older section of Charleston and so most of the streets were standard little streets. You know, my world was colored by the drugstore around the corner, the street became a playground for us where we played football and stickball in the street, and the neighbors who lived around me, it was a very circumscribed world but it was very comfortable. I never felt "disadvantaged", which is a new word in the lexicon of the language that came in the late '60s and '70s. Comfortable, love, secure.