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COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina has plans to commission statues memorializing three students responsible for desegregating the school nearly 60 years ago.

Robert Anderson, Henrie Monteith Treadwell and James Solomon Jr. enrolled at the Columbia campus of the state’s largest university in 1963. They became the first Black students to attend the school since Reconstruction.

Monteith Treadwell and Solomon’s family were on hand for the Feb. 18 vote by the school’s board of trustees.

“I think this is significant in that during my previous visits it felt like I was a ghost walking around,” Monteith Treadwell said. “This is something tangible.”

She is hopeful the sculpture’s presence will inspire others and give students, particularly those of color, a “sense of being seen and acknowledged.”

A national search will be launched for a sculptor, university architect Derek Gruner said. A location has not yet been selected but Gruner said it will be a place that was “meaningful to the campus experience of these three.”

In 2018, the state’s largest college erected a statue of its first African American professor, Richard Greener, near the Thomas Cooper Library.

Placing a statue for the three prominent African American alumni would help fulfill a July pledge by the university to honor more people of color, following the work of a special presidential commission.

The special commission was charged by former university president Bob Caslen with examining the names of buildings and landmarks on campus named after historical figures with racially insensitive records.

  • By Jessica Holdman jholdman@postandcourier.com

USC ultimately did not push to rename any buildings. Instead, the school’s board said it would focus on names of any new or unnamed buildings to honor the university’s other notable Black and minority figures.

“It is a momentous day for the University of South Carolina,” board Chairman Dorn Smith said. “Those statues may become symbols of hope, perseverance, the quest for equality.”

The announcement comes just over a month after the university said it would, for the first time, name a building after a person of color. The board voted in January to name a student housing complex at 700 Lincoln St. after Columbia African American community leader and celebrated educator Celia Dial Saxon.

  • By Jessica Holdman jholdman@postandcourier.com

The plans for the new statues also come days after the university celebrated a $1.5 million gift for the operation of the civil rights center on campus, housed in the auditorium of the former Booker T. High School where Black children of Columbia were educated for more than 50 years.

Clemson University has a historical marker honoring its first Black student, Harvey Gannt, outside Tillman Hall. The street outside Tillman is called Gantt Circle, and the school’s multicultural center is named after Gantt and his wife, Lucinda, who also was among the first African Americans to attend the state’s second-largest college. Harvey Gantt arrived at Clemson eight months before the first Black students at USC.

Anderson, Solomon and Monteith Treadwell’s arrival on the USC campus was highly scripted to avoid disruptions that took place at other colleges. There had been riots at the University of Georgia in 1961, and 1962 riots at the University of Mississippi left 300 people injured and two dead.

State Law Enforcement Division officers were stationed around campus as a precaution as the trio walked from the Osborne Administration Building to the Naval Armory.

“I don’t really know what I was thinking. I was 17,” Monteith Treadwell said. “I just knew that I had to take that walk, as it turns out, a walk into history.”

The day was uneventful, though the three, particularly Anderson, endured racial taunts and harassment during their time on campus. 

“Today is a day for celebrating but celebrating will always go hand in hand with the memory of a more somber time at the university and in society. It serves us well to remember the struggle that proceeded that historic day,” Interim President Harris Pastides said. “We were all made better at that moment. But that will only remain true if we continue the journey of ensuring the equality, freedoms and justice that every member of our community deserves.”

Monteith Treadwell, who still often speaks with students on campus, said she often hears from them that there is more that needs to be done to promote equality at the flagship university. She called on school leadership to listen to the students.

“It’s been a long time coming for me,” she said. “I don’t want it to be a long time for them too.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from USC, Monteith Treadwell went on to earn a master’s and doctorate from Atlanta University. She has served as director of Community Voices at Morehouse School of Medicine, studying health care for underserved populations.

Anderson, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, served as a social worker in New York City for many years and ran an alcohol counseling program, according to a biography by USC. He also worked in the U.S. Veterans Administration for 12 years. He died in 2009.

  • By Jessica Holdman jholdman@postandcourier.com

Solomon, an Air Force veteran, also was teaching math at Morris College when he enrolled in USC’s graduate math program. He would go on to work in state government, holding positions as division director at the state Commission on Higher Education and commissioner of the Department of Social Services.

When he was elected to Sumter District 17 School Board, he became the first African American elected to public office in Sumter County since Reconstruction, according to a biography compiled by USC. He was awarded the Order of the Palmetto by Govs. Richard Riley and Carroll Campbell.

Solomon was commemorated once before by his alma mater, with a plaque that hangs in the USC Mathematics Department.

Andy Shain contributed to this story.

This content was originally published here.

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