Integrating Clemson University in 1963
In 1963, Gantt integrated Clemson University. He felt much more comfortable there than he did at Iowa State, in large part because at Clemson many staff members, such as janitors and cafeteria workers, were African American. He also attributes his relatively smooth transition into the formerly all-white school to his confidence and grasp of upper-class white southern culture.
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
- LYNN HAESSLY:
You must have known that Clemson, even though it was close to home, would
be even more all white and culturally different from your upbringing
than Iowa State was then. What were your thoughts about that?
- HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, as a matter of fact, Clemson turned out to be blacker. The great
surprise was the day that I went up to register amidst the hullabaloo of
all the news and press people. Once that was over, I remember going to
my room, getting a clue of what the world was going to be like seeing a
janitor in the corridor, black, and I realized how different that was
immediately from Iowa, where the janitors were all white. Then I walked
into the dining room, and here I'm expecting to see this sea
of white faces, and literally all over the dining room are black people.
Admittedly, in a subservient role or workers in the dining hall. I felt
very comfortable. I walked through the line and I got the biggest piece
of apple pie because these folks were handing it out to me. They were
saying, "hey, we are glad you're here. Boy,
we're going to take care of you." So, all of a
sudden my world was a different one. It was, "hey,
you're not alone at all. You're the only student
but, my gosh, look around you. You're
going to be taken care of because you're back home in the
- LYNN HAESSLY:
I had wanted to ask you how you survived that experience emotionally.
That was your support?
- HARVEY B. GANTT:
That was the initial support. I don't think there is any
environment I can ever go into where I'm not going to make
friends with anybody, I don't care how hostile
you're likely to be. Whether it's a group of
females or whether it, back in those days, being a single man, I could
never believe that anybody could stay angry with me. I just always have
this confidence that if I can get you to sit down and look you in the
eye we can talk, we can get to know each other. So all of the business
at that time about ostracizing this pioneer, this integrationist, who
wants to destroy our way of life, all of the efforts to make me
something other than a human being, all of those efforts that say that
he was an agent of some evil force that was causing some changes, just
was ridiculous on its face. I always had a feeling that South Carolina
was going to be like South Carolina was going to be, which is
aristocratic, dignified, stiff upper lip. We are going to resist this to
the end but we are going to do it with dignity and when we lose we are
going to lose with dignity. We were one of the thirteen original
colonies, da da da da da. I grew up in Charleston, I was accustomed to
this kind of aristocracy that says that even if I can't
appeal to your morality I can appeal to …, or to put it
another way, if I couldn't, in my efforts to get into
Clemson, appeal to the morality of the situation, which is that I had a
right to go there, I could ultimately win out on
manners. They were going to do the right thing in the end because they
were told to do so but they'd do it with dignity.