Evolution of a Legacy: The Story of the 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. 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 heeded 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 assistant professor of English at UNCC pursuing her doctoral degree, became aware of a growing desire among African Americans to preserve Charlotte's historical legacy, increasingly jeopardized by "urban renewal" activities. Harper sought out Maxwell with her concept for an Afro-American Cultural and Service Center (AACSC), an idea that Maxwell quickly embraced. UNCC President Bonnie E. Cone, a strong supporter of Maxwell's commitment to preserving and promoting African-American history, joined the effort to establish the goals and principles that would make the cultural center unique.
They collaborated with influential elected official Fred Alexander, along with other progressive leaders including UNCC Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Dr. William M. Britt, Dr. William S. Mathis, Dean of Humanities at UNCC, Harry Golden, a Jewish writer, and Mamie L. Brewington, a long-standing community leader who served as the first board chair of what ultimately became the Afro-American Cultural Center (AACC). 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 between the greater Charlotte community and the university. To this day the spirit of collaboration with UNCC remains.
Since its establishment in 1974, the dream of the first visionaries has elevated to unforeseen levels. Located in the heart of Uptown Charlotte, October 2009 marked the opening of the Afro-American Cultural Center as the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. The naming of the new facility is in honor of Harvey Bernard Gantt, a well-respected community leader and businessman. He is a trailblazer as the first African-American student admitted to Clemson University and later served as Charlotte's first African-American mayor. This humble leader continues to impact the lives of the local citizenry and individuals well beyond the borders of Mecklenburg County.