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About Harvey B. Gantt
Harvey B. Gantt: Tale Of A Trailblazer
Sometimes standing up for what’s right means having the courage to blaze your own trail.
Harvey Bernard Gantt grew up in the 1940s and 50s in then-segregated Charleston, South Carolina. As the oldest child of Wilhelmina and Christopher Gantt, he often attended NAACP meetings with his father. It was there, and at the family dinner table with his four sisters, that he began to appreciate the importance of advocacy and the injustice of racial discrimination.
After graduating second in his class from Burke High School in 1960, Gantt left home to study architecture at Iowa State University. In January 1963, after a legal battle that escalated to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gantt became the first African-American student accepted at Clemson University. In September 1963, Lucinda Brawley became the first African-American woman to be admitted to Clemson and in October 1964 married Harvey. Harvey Gantt graduated with honors from Clemson in 1965, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and later a Master of City Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He moved to Charlotte after graduating from MIT, and, in 1971, co-founded Gantt Huberman Architects. A pioneer in blending urban planning with the practice of architecture, Gantt Huberman employed a diverse group of professionals who were charged with designing buildings that encourage community. As a result, the firm has developed some of the city’s most iconic landmarks, including the Charlotte Transportation Center, TransAmerica Square, ImaginOn, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, and the Johnson C. Smith University Science Center.
While significant, Gantt’s impact on the city extends beyond improving the built environment. He joined Charlotte City Council in 1974 and again broke barriers when he was elected Charlotte’s first African-American mayor in 1983. Remaining in office for two terms, Gantt stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other Charlotte leaders committed to establishing a New South City.
Gantt continues to advocate for equity and equal rights and is often tapped to serve on civic, cultural, and business boards, and to lead philanthropic efforts and community initiatives. In 2009, the former Afro-American Cultural Center opened its doors to a new, award-winning facility and was renamed the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in honor of Harvey B. Gantt, an American trailblazer.
Naming The Center
When it was first proposed that this building be named after me, I hesitated. Being a man of tradition, I always felt it was more appropriate to name a building or street for someone after their passing, as a way to honor their work. Admittedly, it took some convincing by Board Chair Earl Leake and others. After much processing and discussion with my wife, Cindy, the prevailing factor that led me to say "yes" was that it was for the sake of posterity. I envisioned walking into the building with my grandchildren and had thoughts of others doing the same with future generations. I saw them talking about the sacrifices of many who made Charlotte great, and the enormous history and accomplishments of the African American community. And I remembered my parents and others who served as inspirations to me. I am forever grateful to them for being the driving force and motivation in my life.
I thought about the enormous history of the residents of the historic Second Ward community of "Brooklyn," where the Gantt Center now stands. I hope that those who have already "crossed over" can smile and feel proud knowing that we have not forgotten their sacrifices; how they nurtured, pushed and prodded young minds to strive for excellence. We are forever grateful to them. Brooklyn residents often referred to the old Myers School as the "Jacob's Ladder School." Its skyward stairway was a visible reminder of the importance of aspiring to greater things and a good education. Not just teachers, but an entire community rallied behind the youth, molding bright minds.
That's why I agreed to the naming of the building, and that's why I want you to join me in celebrating our history and the dawning of a new day for all of us. Charlotte is a great community and the Carolinas are a great region. I call this home because the city and community represent all that is symbolic to steadfastness and a "can do" attitude. While our nation and world still struggle with acknowledging and appreciating our differences, the Gantt Center can serve as a vehicle for people to come celebrate African American art, history and culture. Residents and visiting friends alike will have numerous opportunities to enjoy all aspects of Levine Center for the Arts. The Gantt Center will serve as one of the entry points to experience the arts, sporting events and many other amenities that Charlotte has to offer. Thank you for your interest in and support of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts + Culture. May this edifice always stand as a symbol that this community and nation are places where we all "belong".
By Harvey B. Gantt