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Civil rights pioneer Harvey Gantt to speak at Furman

Harvey Gantt speaks at a press conference after becoming the first black student to attend the university.
Harvey Gantt speaks at a Clemson press conference after becoming the first black student to attend the university.

Harvey Gantt, the former mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and the first black student to attend Clemson University, will speak on the Furman University campus Thursday, Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Daniel Recital Hall.

Gantt, who enrolled at Clemson in 1963, will discuss his pioneering role in desegregation during an interview with South Carolina historian Ron Cox.  “An Evening with Harvey Gantt” is part of Furman’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation.

The interview will be moderated by Furman history professor Steve O’Neill and will be followed by a question-and-answer session. The event is free and open to the public.

A graduate of Burke High School in Charleston, Gantt attended Iowa State University for two years before applying to Clemson in late 1961.  After a lengthy legal battle, he enrolled as the first black student at Clemson in January 1963 under court order.  He graduated from the university in 1965 with honors and a Bachelor of Architecture degree.

After graduation Gantt moved to Charlotte, where he served more than three terms on the Charlotte City Council and became the city’s first African-American mayor in 1983.  He ran for national office in 1990 and 1996, unsuccessfully challenging Jesse Helms in the North Carolina U.S. Senate race.

Harvey Gantt graduated from Clemson in 1965 with honors.
Harvey Gantt graduated from Clemson in 1965 with honors.

Cox, a history professor who will interview Gantt during the Furman event, has published research on Gantt’s battle to enroll at Clemson. Cox currently serves as Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster.

Furman is commemorating 50 years of desegregation throughout the 2014-15 academic year.  Following passage of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, Furman trustees voted on October 8, 1963 to adopt a racially non-discriminatory admission policy. Joe Vaughn, a Greenville native, became Furman’s first black student when he enrolled Feb. 2, 1965.

Furman will host a variety of lectures, exhibits and presentations during the school year to honor those who fought to achieve equality at the institution.

For more information, visit the Furman website commemorating the 50th anniversary of desegregation or contact Chandra Dillard, the university’s Director of Community Relations, at 864-294-2503 or

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