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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

Gantt discusses his effort to transfer from Iowa State to Clemson, which excluded African Americans. After Clemson administrators discouraged him from moving, he filed suit. The State of South Carolina fought Gantt's admission and Gantt fought back with financial aid from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Finally the Supreme Court rejected the state's position and Gantt was allowed to enroll.

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:
Let me turn back and ask you about what the process was that enabled you to enter Clemson.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, after so many different efforts to get in at the beginning of the sophomore year at Iowa, I mean the latter part of freshman year at Iowa. Ultimately, I left Iowa State in the first quarter of my junior year, having filed a suit the previous summer, after we had tried on three different occasions for each semester to get in to it and being given different kinds of excuses.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Who was "we"? You said "we" had tried to get in.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
My lawyer and I. The first time I started this, I did it on my own and I sensed that they would do it. They sent me catalogs and nice things about Clemson. They delighted to have it in an application. I filled the application out and then we had trouble. The application then signalled that this was not a usual application because it was coming from a student who was at Iowa State who attended Burke High School in Charleston, South Carolina. Burke was known as a black school, so he had to be a black student. I got a letter back essentially saying, "hey, we notice you are doing very well at Iowa State. You're getting some state aid to go to school there, plus you are on a scholarship. Enjoy yourself!" Then I got mad. I went back and said, "but you don't understand. I want to go school there." The same lawyer that assisted us, Matthew Perry, in the sit-in case in high school when we met at the march. I remembered his name; called him up; and told him what I'd done. He said, "Great! Now, from now on, just send me a copy of all the letters you send them, a copy of all the letters they send back to you. And we'll see if we can't develop a file and if we can pursue it." And that's what happened.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Now, the case that led up to the Brown decision had been very much orchestrated by the Legal Defense Fund and they were bringing suits all over the country. Your decision to enter Clemson was not a part of that.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
People keep wanting to make it that. No, it was not a part of that grand design. It really wasn't. I never had anybody to talk to me about doing that or even thinking about doing that. A lot of people have wondered about that all these years. Stories about Harvey going to Iowa State as a kind of training for going to Clemson, and that it was planned by the Legal Defense Fund, but that is not true, absolutely not true, never was.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did you get any support from the NAACP after you began to file your suit?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Oh, the Legal Defense Fund took the case over once it had gotten to the point where it was clear that they were going to resist my application. We sought to exhaust all the administrative avenues we could force. And after Perry took the case, after about the third or fourth exchange of letters, and I think the state then knew that we would be getting some legal help.
LYNN HAESSLY:
He was with the Legal Defense Fund?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
He had his own law practice but he was like Julius Chambers. He was really employed by the Legal Defense Fund for a lot of the cases in South Carolina.
LYNN HAESSLY:
So they paid the legal fees.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
They paid our legal fees. My family didn't have to pay it; they couldn't afford it. I could not have afforded to do that. Let's see. We proceeded to file it in district court in Anderson, South Carolina, and that was heard on its merit and the federal district judge ruled that Clemson was not guilty. So we took it to the court of appeals in less than three or four weeks, trying it in January of 1963 . And the court of appeals said, "yes, you did discriminate. You've got to admit him." Then the State of South Carolina took it to the Supreme Court and they refused to hear it and that ended the case. What was remarkable about the whole thing was that it was like a charade; I mean, the state was going through the motions that had to be gone through in order to satisfy the people of South Carolina, or at least a portion of the people of South Carolina, that they had exhausted every legal remedy available to them before they let the gates open that would never be closed again.