1954-1969: Modern Civil Rights Era

This period bore fruit from the long struggle for access to USC. Between 1958 and 1962, students from Allen University, South Carolina State College, and throughout the state unsuccessfully attempted to gain admission.

1958 – Eleven African American students from Allen University including Thelma McClain, Mary Haton, James Jones, Cornell F. Mitchell and Loretta Jenkins, daughter of the civil rights activist, Esau Jenkins, attempted to gain admission at USC.

1960 – Lloyd and Raymond Westin, SC State College students applied for admission but were also denied.

1962 – In May Henri Monteith applied to the University and was denied admission.  In the fall of 1962 she attended Notre Dame College in Maryland. Represented by Attorney Matthew Perry, she filed suit against USC in October 1962 to gain entrance as a transfer student.

1963 – On July 10, Judge J. Robert Martin of Greenville ordered USC to admit Montieth in the Fall semester.  A USC appeal was denied.  On July 25, Robert G. Anderson of Greenville, a transfer student from Clark Atlanta and James L. Soloman, Jr. of Sumter, a graduate student, also applied for admission. On the morning of September 11, 1963, accompanied by their attorneys, Matthew Perry of Columbia and Donald Sampson of Greenville, all three were enrolled in what was the last flagship southern state university that remained racially segregated.

1967 – One of the main catalysts for the creation of the African American Studies Program was a group of socially conscious student activists within a newly formed campus organization known as the Association of Afro-American Students established in 1967. Among the key leaders within the organization were, Luther Battiste who explained in an interview that he felt “lost in a sea of whiteness.” The Association of Afro-American Students embarked on a campaign to change the racial climate at USC by working through existing networks to encourage university officials to reevaluate course offerings and the treatment of black students, faculty and staff.

1968 – African American student leaders presented a document to University officials criticizing the curricular offerings and the “misrepresentation and gross ignorance of the true history and culture of black people by the white citizens of South Carolina”. They sought the inclusion of more books by black authors on the freshmen required reading list, increased enrollment of African American students proportional to the state’s population, increased recruitment of black scholars as full-time professors, access to white-collar and supervisory positions for qualified blacks, and higher pay for the janitorial staff. At the top of the list of demands was the creation of a “Black Studies” program to be created in consultation with leading academic authorities and campus officials to “fairly and accurately represent the true role of black people in the World and American History.”

President Jones encouraged students to compile the necessary statistical data to gauge campus-wide support for such an addition to the University curriculum. Responses to the killing and wounding of students at South Carolina State in 1968 by state law enforcement increased racial tensions throughout the state. A series of skirmishes between black student activists, white reactionaries, and campus law enforcement officials made matters worse. The Black Afros for Defense (BAD) released a statement that included “USC is HURTING THE BLACK COMMUNITY WITH ALL ITS “PROGRESS,” in response to 700 African American families being moved for urban renewal projects benefiting the University.

1968 – Dr. Earline Cummingham joined the Department of Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, to continue hormone research. Other Black faculty also joined, including Dr. James Luck in the Department of English and Dr. Thomas Davis in the Department of Social Work. 

1969 – African American student leaders, faculty, and key administrators continued to debate the differing views for Black Studies’ offerings and potential staff. Student leaders formed a “Black Studies Group” to develop a proposal for a Black Studies Program at USC. The preamble of the proposals presented to President Jones straddled the line between an urgent plea for membership in the Carolina community and a blueprint for radical social change through educational reform. Association leaders challenged university officials to make the institution truly “a faithful index to the ambitions and fortunes of the state” by revising the curriculum to pay increased attention to the historical and contemporary issues facing the black community and creating interdepartmental majors such as Black Studies to foster interracial dialogue to cure the varied symptoms of structural racism such as racial stereotyping and black economic inequality. President Jones and other key administrators agreed to permit the project to move forward. Association leaders and faculty formed a Black Studies Committee to compile more statistical data, revise ideas on the purpose and structure of the program, and gather insight from similar programs at universities throughout the country.

1969 – History Department offered “Negro History” taught by Professor Tom Terrill. Thirty-eight students completed the class including Harry Wright and Luther Battiste. Wright, Battiste, and Terrill and Dr. Bruce Marshall, Professor of International Studies and a key leader, joined other students and faculty to continue the task of developing a proposal for a Black Studies Program. After a series of revisions and compromises, a final proposal was completed and ratified in the summer of 1970.