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Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity: Integration of Higher Education in South Carolina

South Carolina Political Collections Gallery, Hollings Library
Aug 12, 2013 - Dec 20, 2013

A new exhibit created by USC Libraries’ South Carolina Political Collections (SCPC) takes a unique look at the integration of higher education in South Carolina.

“Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity: The Integration of Higher Education in South Carolina” uses the papers of two state governors and other leaders to show behind-the-scenes actions that made the move to desegregate less volatile than in other states. The exhibit is on display through November 15 in the Hollings Library.

“Turning a Crisis into an Opportunity,” along with a number of other exhibits and events, will help the University mark its fiftieth anniversary of integration, which took place September 11, 1963.

“Our exhibit views that historic time through the lens of the two South Carolina governors who were involved,” said Dorothy Walker, curator of the SCPC exhibit. “The integration of the University of South Carolina and Clemson University was an effort of two leaders: Gov. Ernest ‘Fritz’ Hollings was leaving the governorship and Gov. Donald Russell was coming in. SCPC houses the papers of both of these leaders.

“Gov. Hollings gave a famous speech before the General Assembly in January 1963 as he was leaving office, and that speech set the tone for how integration in our state would take place,” Walker said. “His basic message was, ‘Integration is going to happen, and we need to show that we are people who follow laws.’ It was considered a tipping point in the integration process. He also worked behind the scenes with lawmakers, law enforcement and other key players, basically conveying the idea to them that ‘If we can get together on this issue, we can prevent problems and present a united front.’ And it worked."

Portions of that famous speech are part of the exhibit. (Read that speech now on SCPC's website.)

Also included is a letter dated January 11, 1963, from Clemson University President Robert C. Edwards concerning Harvey Gantt, the first black student to attend Clemson, as well as other correspondence and materials from the papers of activist I. DeQuincey Newman. Also part of the exhibit are newspaper articles featuring Henri Monteith, one of the first three black students to attend USC, along with powerfully descriptive quotes from attorney Matthew Perry, who would later become a federal judge, and other key people involved at the time." (Read Perry's recollections of this time in "Interview with the Honorable Matthew J. Perry, Jr., scroll to page 48.)

“The integration as it unfolded in South Carolina could have gone a different way," Walker said. "There was a strategy among a number of leaders, in business and in government, who thought that planning ahead and laying some groundwork would help prevent violence and disorder. They let it be known that integration would occur in an orderly fashion. That’s not to say there were no demonstrations or unease – there were – but their efforts made for a smoother transition than other states and institutions had."

SCPC is located in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library, which is accessed through Thomas Cooper Library on the USC campus. Regular building hours are 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday. For more information, visit