Where No One Stands Alone: Harvey Gantt and the Civil Rights Movement in the Carolinas, 1943-1987
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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As the first African American student to enroll at Clemson University and the first African American mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, Harvey Gantt served as a trailblazer. Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1940s and 1950s, Gantt was a direct product of his environment. With the civil rights leadership of his parents, the educational opportunities of Burke High School, and the legal support of Matthew Perry, Gantt achieved academic success and desegregated higher education in South Carolina. While scholars have recognized Gantt for breaking the racial barrier at Clemson, the influences that led him to that particular moment in time have been overlooked. Likewise, Gantt’s enrollment at Clemson began a new process of desegregation and integration in education across the state that continues to this day. A similar situation occurred in Charlotte, where Gantt benefitted from decades of civil rights activism that created the conditions in which his political career thrived. Gantt’s leadership on the city council and as mayor of Charlotte brought about an era of balanced growth and increased participation from African American citizens in Charlotte’s government. In this dissertation, I seek to move beyond the moments of desegregation in Clemson and Charlotte in the interest of highlighting Gantt’s place in the long civil rights movement in the Carolinas. Although Gantt was driven by personal ambitions, he was aided in the pursuit of his goals by a support network of civil rights activists who spent decades fighting for equality. Through his efforts to desegregate Clemson University and the mayor’s office in Charlotte, Gantt opened the door for further generations of students, activists, and political leaders that followed in his wake. An examination of Gantt’s life helps reveal the generational nature of the civil rights movement and the long struggle for equality that continues to the present day.