A Timeline Of Our History
Without the vision and unwavering determination of co-founders Dr. Mary T. Harper and Dr. Bertha Maxwell Roddey, the Gantt Center — this prominent, public space established to celebrate the African-American experience — would not exist. Demolished inner-city neighborhoods coupled with campus unrest launched a battle to preserve Charlotte’s African-American history. What some deemed only a possibility 40 years ago has grown, step-by-step, to become the region’s destination for African-American art, history and culture.
History Made At Clemson University
Charleston-born Harvey Bernard Gantt becomes the first African American to be admitted to Clemson University in South Carolina.
Vigil At The Flagpole
On February 7, a small group of Black students at the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) hold a vigil at the flagpole at the center of campus to commemorate the deaths of three Black college students killed near South Carolina State College in Orangeburg, the prior year. The 1968 Orangeburg massacre, which pre-dates the Kent State and Jackson State incidents, was the first unrest on a U.S. university campus resulting in deaths of protesters.
Ripples from that February 1969 event would culminate in the formation of the UNCC Black Studies Center in 1973.
Vistas Unlimited: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Afro-American Cultural and Service Center
Mary Harper, a young assistant professor of English at UNCC, is in pursuit of a doctoral degree. One of her courses requires the development of a project demonstrating excellence in which some societal change could be achieved. With guidance from a mentor, Dr. Bertha Maxwell Roddey, director of the UNCC Black Studies Center, Harper develops a project proposal titled "Vistas Unlimited: The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Afro-American Cultural and Service Center."
Work on the doctoral project reveals a lack of recognition and awareness of important societal contributions made by African Americans. Their academic research also points to a need to preserve history and landmarks of significance to African Americans in Charlotte, particularly during an era when urban renewal projects were demolishing Black neighborhoods. Together, Harper and Roddey envision a place where African Americans can learn about their own heritage and celebrate the contributions of unsung Black originators of art, history and culture.
With support from UNCC President Bonnie E. Cone, Harper and Roddey deepen their endeavor to create a pathbreaking cultural center. They collaborate with Fred Alexander, an influential political leader, along with other powerful Charlotteans including Harry Golden, a prominent writer; Dr. William S. Mathis, UNCC Dean of Humanities; Dr. William M. Britt, UNCC Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs; and Mamie L. Brewington, a well-known community leader.
Where The Public Can Access African American Culture
An outdoor festival in Marshall Park on August 31 marks the founding date of The Afro-American Cultural and Service Center. Dr. Mary Harper and Dr. Bertha Maxwell Roddey are celebrated as the Center's "Founding Mothers."
With Mamie L. Brewington as the first board chair, the Center becomes a place where the public can access African American culture through exhibitions, performing arts and educational programs.
Harvey Gantt enters local politics, when he is appointed to fill a vacant seat on the Charlotte City Council.
Spirit Square Called Home
The Center, now formally known as the Afro-American Cultural Center, and commonly called the "Afro-Am" or "Afro Center" establishes its home at Spirit Square Center for the Arts, located at 345 North College Street in First Ward. Once a church, Spirit Square opens in 1976 as a community arts center and AACC becomes one of its resident organizations.
Harvey Gantt Becomes Mayor
Harvey B. Gantt becomes the first black Mayor of Charlotte, ultimately serving two terms.
The Center Relocates
The Center relocates to the former site of Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church, situated at North Myers and Seventh streets in First Ward.
Established in 1884 by formerly enslaved Black Charlotteans, the church congregation and building carry great historical significance. The Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church frame structure was moved across Seventh Street in 1908 and was completed in 1911.
The Hewitt Collection Pledged
Bank of America purchases the Hewitt Collection — 58 two-dimensional works by African American artists — from John and Vivian Hewitt, and pledges the renowned collection to the Afro-American Cultural Center.
A transformative gift to the Center, the John & Vivian Hewitt Collection of African-American Art reflects a labor of love created by two avid collectors over a 50-year period. Assembled works range in style from representational to pure abstraction. Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett and Henry O. Tanner are among the 20 artists featured.
A Brand New Facility In The Works
Groundbreaking occurs on September 27 on a $158-million cultural campus along South Tryon Street. A new home for the Center, where it will house the Hewitt Collection, is a part of the project. Selected to design the facility, The Freelon Group architecture firm designs a 45,000 square-foot, four-story facility featuring galleries, space for performances and presentations, administrative offices, a gift shop and rooftop terrace at an estimated $18.6 million.
The city block at South Tryon and Stonewall streets, where the Center is under construction was once part of a thriving African American neighborhood spanning Second Ward, called Brooklyn. Architectural design elements within the building evoke historical references to the neighborhood, which was razed during urban renewal projects of the 1970s. The Center's stairs and escalators pay tribute to a Brooklyn landmark, the "Jacob's Ladder" school, which had a prominent exterior staircase. Other links to the Center's historic context are "stitched" steel panels on the exterior façade, which are inspired by African textile designs and African American quilting patterns.
A State-Of-The-Art, Uptown Facility
A state-of-the-art, uptown facility, now re-named the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture, opens to the public on October 24 with the building's dedication.
The Center's new home debuts to fanfare, including an exhibition of the Hewitt Collection, a black-tie gala and weekend-long festivities.
40 Years: Remember
Emerging from the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and 1970s, the Gantt Center stands as a legacy of perseverance, boldness and courage from that movement and prior eras. Four decades of exhibitions, presentations and performances have served to bridge continents, generations, cultures and understanding.
The Center's mission endures to present, preserve and celebrate excellence in the arts, history and culture of African Americans and those of African descent.