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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 >>

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

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?
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 South."
I had wanted to ask you how you survived that experience emotionally. That was your support?
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.