“Students and even faculty here at the University often forget the major contributions of minority groups,” says Hakeem Jefferson, a fourth-year political science and African American studies student. “While at times a very sad and uncomfortable history to recall, the history of African-Americans at the University of South Carolina and in this state is central to an understanding of both.”
Take the Horseshoe. We cross it every day (and occasionally trip), but probably never really think about what we’re walking on. This well-traversed area does not simply represent the core of campus; it is also a renowned exhibition of American architecture and history. Ten of its 11 structures have earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Thousands upon thousands of hand-laid bricks make up its walkways. And yet many do not know that much of this detailed workmanship came from African-American slave labor.
“It’s interesting to see buildings once built by the oppressed are now used for furthering the education of their descendents,” comments Austin McCullough, a first-year history student. “It shows the capacity for positive change throughout history.”
At one point, early professors owned slaves on campus, but in the years following the Civil War, African-Americans actually became a large part of the higher education system in the country and at USC.
On a regional scale, USC was remarkably the only southern state university to accept black students during Reconstruction. By 1875, 90% of the student body was black – a statistic usually reserved only for historically black colleges and universities.
These years of integration at the University punctuated a stand for Civil Rights in the South. However, a change in state leadership in 1876 brought a swift end to this early initiative of equality; the University was closed and reopened one year later in 1880 as an exclusively white campus.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and ’60s, after decades of discrimination and exclusion, that the desegregation of Reconstruction would continue its course.
The months leading up to modern integration at Carolina were fueled by an atmosphere of kerosene intensity. Violence erupted at the University of Mississippi over the enrollment of a black student, killing two people. The University of Alabama witnessed the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” protest, wherein Gov. George Wallace blocked two black students from entering the school auditorium.
Still, none of this deterred three students – Henrie Dobbins Treadwell (née Monteith), Robert Anderson and James Solomon Jr. – from registering at Carolina in 1963".
“It was time,” reflects Monteith from her office in Atlanta, where she now works to improve access to public health and rehabilitate men who have gone through the criminal justice system.
“Perhaps people knew it was inevitable,” says Monteith. She kept her resolve even after exploding sticks of dynamite were thrown into her aunt and uncle’s yard two weeks before integration.
The first day of integration, or “I-Day,” occurred on Sept. 11 with no violence. The event made a national statement; the University’s integration put the final nail in the coffin for segregation at southern flagship universities. Still, though Monteith, Anderson and Solomon Jr. were allowed enrollment, their fight against discrimination was not over".
For security purposes their first year, Monteith and Anderson lived on campus in isolated dorm rooms (Solomon Jr., a grad student, lived at home and met a friendly reception within his department). The phones placed in their rooms could only make outgoing calls. Both of them often ate alone, and each dealt with individual struggles against harassment. Monteith put up with hateful phone calls and packages at her door, while Anderson endured scathing racial remarks and pestering, such as when a student popped out of a window on the Horseshoe pretending to shoot him with a pointed broom. Nevertheless, the three found at least some support and friendship from various campus organizations and faculty. They made it through their first year and eventually earned degrees".
Desegregation continued, although the protests of the past shed an attitude of cold disregard upon black students’ existence. By 1970, 279 black students were enrolled at the University as the School of Law and other post-grad programs opened their doors to African-Americans".
The decades progressed, and USC welcomed African-Americans into all areas of campus – from student media to varsity sports to student government and academic honor societies.
Today, the University strives to maintain its identity as an institution that encourages diversity. Among the thousands of African-Americans attending and teaching at USC, there exist 14 distinct and thriving black student organizations – including the National Society of Black Accountants, the Association of Black Psychologists Student Circle and African-American fraternities and sororities. Each of these 14 organizations has its own take on black history at the University.
Dominique Grate, a third-year African American and religious studies student and former president of USC’s NAACP chapter, recognizes that the school has come a long way since the 1960s, but there is still room for improvement.
“1873 to 1877 is the only time-frame where USC does not recognize degrees granted from a certain period,” Dominique explains. Ironically, these happen to be the very years when African-American students comprised 90% of the student body.
“We just want to be able to have open dialogue about these and other issues for the continued recognition of black history with USC history,” she says.
While it may not ever be required to recall our school’s historical facts and figures with exact precision, an awareness of how these stories have shaped our campus is necessary for understanding our current culture. Few students may know about the wall detailing black history in the ballroom wing of the Russell House, or the diversity events put on by the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. But these are a part of USC just as much as you and me – the USC you and I chose.
We at G&B noted the omission of African-Americans’ photographs during the 1960s in our predecessor, the Garnet and Black yearbook. This was a poignant reminder to our staff that black history is not just USC history but a shared past from which we can all learn.