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Former Charlotte Mayor Gantt's Civil Rights Victory Featured In New Film

Cecil Williams via scetv.org

Charlotte newcomers may recognize the name "Gantt" because it's on the Center for African Arts and Culture Uptown. They may even know Harvey Gantt was the city's first African American mayor. But the name carries even more weight in South Carolina, where Gantt had a major role in desegregation. That is the subject of a new documentary airing this weekend on ETV – the South Carolina public television station.  WFAE's Julie Rose explains:

It happened 50 years ago, so Harvey Gantt says he understands why his grandkids weren't really aware of his Civil Rights fame. They range from 16 years on down and when he brought them in to watch the ETV documentary, "they, uh, they were quite surprised."

There was grandpa as a young man striding through a sea of reporters onto the all-white campus of what was then Clemson College in January of 1963.  

Credit Clemson University
Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt is featured in a new ETV documentary about his role desegregating Clemson University.

Gantt's enrollment came only after a years-long legal battle that went all the way to the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. At the time, every state but South Carolina had integrated at least one of its universities or colleges.  Gantt changed that, but says it could have been anyone.  

"We knew the change was inevitable and somebody had to do it - and I did it," says Gantt.

Gantt was not a stranger to the Civil Rights struggle. He grew up in Charleston and participated in lunch-counter sit-ins as a teenager. His father was a member of the local NAACP. But Gantt says the main reason he set his heart on Clemson was because he wanted to be an architect and it was the best engineering school in the state.  Somewhat ironically, his success in achieving that goal also led him to leave South Carolina.

"Even though I graduated with honors, it was probably a difficult thing for a lot of South Carolina firms to hire an African American architect who broke the barriers at the schools there," says Gantt. "So I got no job offers. All my job offers came from Atlanta and Charlotte. So I elected Charlotte to be the place to go."

"The Education of Harvey Gantt" airs Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. on South Carolina ETV and again on the station's South Carolina channel next Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Read more about Harvey Gantt's role in desegregating Clemson here.