Harvey B. Gantt Center
During the 1960s college campuses across the United States were vibrant with student protest movements. The campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) was no different. Several students held sit-ins, demanding a forum to acknowledge the rich history and contributions of African Americans in this country. After much discussion, campus leaders heard the rallying cry of the students and developed a process to structure what became the Black Studies Center. Bertha Maxwell, an associate professor at the University, served as the Center’s first director. She also emphasized the importance of students giving back to the community.
Also at the time, Mary Harper, a young Black assistant professor of English at UNCC, was pursuing her doctoral degree through the Union Graduate School. Her course requirement was to develop a project demonstrating excellence in which some societal change could be assured. Bonnie E. Cone, President of UNCC, was a very strong advocate of Bertha Maxwell’s and supported her unwavering commitment to preserve and promote African-American history.
These formidable women joined forces and began to organize the goals and ideals that would make the cultural center unique. They collaborated with the late Fred Alexander, a well-respected and influential political leader in Charlotte, along with other powerful people including Harry Golden, a Jewish writer; Dr. William S. Mathis, Dean of Humanities at UNCC; Dr. William M. Britt, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs; and Mamie L. Brewington, a respected community leader who eventually became the first board chair of what was initially named the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center (AACSC) initiative. The AACC came to fruition under their guidance to provide the public with access to African American culture through a broad range of exhibitions, presentations in the performing arts, innovative educational programs and a link with the greater Charlotte community to the university. To this day the spirit of collaboration with UNCC remains.
After 35 years, the dream of the first visionaries has elevated to unforeseen levels. October 2009 marked the opening of the Afro-American Cultural Center as the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, located in the heart of Uptown Charlotte. The naming of the new facility is in honor of Harvey Bernard Gantt, a well-respected businessman who was the first African-American mayor of Charlotte and first African American student admitted to Clemson University.
This trailblazer was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1943. Gantt attended public schools and graduated second in his class from Burke High School. He received a merit scholarship and enrolled at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. In 1963 Gantt was admitted to Clemson University where he excelled with honors with a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1965. In 1970 he received a Masters of City Planning degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Since the creation of his own architectural firm in the center of Charlotte’s business district, Harvey B. Gantt has distinguished himself as a designer of structures and a builder of communities. Gantt-Huberman Architects has won numerous local, regional and national design awards and in 2006 the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects honored the firm as “North Carolina Firm of the Year”.
Over the years Gantt has served on numerous civic, business and cultural boards and continues to lead many community initiatives and philanthropic causes. The importance of a solid education and the value of the arts have long been special passions for his family. How fitting that the AACC celebrates its 35 year anniversary and that Harvey Gantt also marks 35 years in Charlotte; where he has worked tirelessly to make this city a great place to live, work and to raise a family for all of its people. He has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Charlotte’s great civic leaders like Hugh McColl, Bill Lee, Rolfe Neill, Carroll Gray, John Belk, Ed Crutchfield and others in their goal of creating a “New South City”, an open city and a city of equal opportunity and unlimited possibilities.
The theme of the Harvey B. Gantt Center is “where you belong.” It captivates what community leaders had in mind when they created yesterday’s vision for the Afro-American Cultural Center; the foundation of Harvey B. Gantt’s community service, and the essence of what the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture will signify today, for all visitors.
added: January 28, 2010
updated: March 29, 2010