Clemson University

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The institution is founded 1889 and is found in Clemson, South Carolina. The university traces its origin to Thomas Clemson who gave up almost all of his estate for the purpose of starting a technical institution that would offer courses to the people of South Carolina (Clemson Library, n.d). South Carolina was one of the Confederate states, and thus the issue of slavery runs deep. The land where the university sits has long memories about slavery. Similarly, early construction depended on the labor provided by the slaves. Like many other institutions of higher learning, Eisiminger (2003) argues that Clemson was an all-male all-white institution. However, it has changed the policy over time to integrate all races. Despite the change in policy, there is still a deep issue which continues to affect the everyday interactions. The paper explores how Clemson approached integration differently compared to other institutions of higher learning during the time by discussing why integration was slow (military history, history with slaves of the college, integration, and the funding issues) and the approaches they took to comply (approach of other institutions, law on integration, as well as eventual integration).

Why Integration was Slow

Military History

The university began as a college which was an all-male white military college. Despite the students being civilian, there was a rigid military discipline that they had to live with. In addition, Clemson Library (n.d) argues that there was no admission for female students as the rules stated that it was an all-male white college. Being a military institution, the college played a significant role in the first world war. It became a training ground of military reserve corps during the period (Andrew, 2016). At the same time, there was the formation of the student military training corps in the campus. The war also brought about changes in the rules of the management of the institution. In most of its life, there were no women in its faculties something that changed after the war. Besides, Clemson’s enrollment grew dramatically following the Second World War reaching its high in the 1947-1948 academic year. However, the enrollment decreased significantly as the all-male student body, as well as the military discipline, became less attractive to a modern generation of students. Due to the pressure from the public and the student’s body, the institution’s trustees bowed to change and as a result, in 1955, the college became a coeducational and civilian institution (Clemson Library, n.d). The previous barracks were transformed to dormitories and as social mores changed, other rules began to relax. As demonstrated by Andrew (2016), these changes had a significant impact on the diversity of the student-body when Harvey Gantt, a young black man enrolled at the institution in 1963 to study architecture. Local officials and trustees strived hard to ensure that integration at the institution occurred smoothly and with no embarrassing riots that were rampant in Mississippi. According to Andrew (2016), “Clemson’s plan was “the most complete and carefully thought-out one ever drawn up in the United States to meet the threat of racial violence.”

History with slaves of the college

Thomas Clemson, who envisioned the construction of the college acquired the land by virtue of being the benefactor of his wife. In turn, the wife was a daughter to John Calhoun who was famous for his dealings with slaves. Indeed, the university sits in a place which was a slave plantation for many years. At the time of the construction, Jonathan Tillman was the Governor of the state. Despite slavery having come to an end, Tillman provided convicts to offer labor at the institution. They were all blacks, and this was perceived to be a disguised continuation of slavery. The culture of seeing African Americans as inferior continued until 1955 when the first black student was admitted.


Almost all-American universities were benefactors of slavery and the slave trade. While some of them used the labor provided by the slaves, others went as far as keeping slaves in the institutions who would serve members of the administration as well as the faculty. In some cases, some students brought slaves along as they went to the universities (Eisiminger, 2003). Unlike what would be thought immediately, the civil war did not bring much change to the perception of the African Americans. Several colleges and universities were founded including Fisk, Howard, Morehouse, and Hampton to name just a few which were all blacks colleges. According to Davison (1997), the integration was still slow and colleges founded around this time were all white. In fact, Clemson University was founded after the civil war but it was an all-white from the beginning. It is important to note that the flagship states were still bitter with the loss of slaves and could not envision the integration of their schools. Benjamin Tillman who was a founder of the college was among those who celebrated the slaying of African Americans and thus it was clear that the institution would be all white. When Harvey Grant won the fight to gain admission in the university, Edgar Brown who was the senator at the time openly voiced his opposition (Eisiminger, 2003). Brown made comments to the effect that there would be violence in the university which they will not entertain.

The funding issues

Discrimination of African Americans which sought to block them in all ways possible from the attainment of higher education had the insufficient or even nil funding of all black schools. The agencies which are meant to fund and see the success of the schools was part of the process of denying all blacks schools an opportunity (Johnson, 1993). The funds allocated in all the schools for the blacks were far below as compared to all white schools. Thus, the allocation of funds is one of the ways that the blacks’ institutions of higher learning were stifled. Similarly, the judicial system also took part in ensuring that the blacks remained as they are as far as segregation is concerned. The blacks did take part in trying to use the judicial to ensure compliance with the law on integration without success. For example, in 1896, the Supreme Court, in a case that did not involve education, gave validation to the segregation by using the process as precedence. The fact that it had to take almost 60 years for the Supreme Court to overturn the Plessey decision is telling. At the same time, it is very telling that little changed even after the Brown v. Board of Education verdict which stated that equal but separate laws have no place in the society. The speed at which the implementation of segregation took place after the Plessey ruling was not reflected here. The funding of all blacks’ schools and those found in neighborhoods dominated by African Americans remained low. As a result, there was poor education and it became hard or even impossible for the students to effectively compete with their white counterparts as the playing field was not even.

Approaches they Took to Comply

Approach of other institutions

The pace and approach at which integration took place differs and depends on the institution and the place. The convictions of the founders played a critical role in the determination of how the integration process took place. For example, there was the Stetson College. Although it was an all-white college at its founding, the charter did not have any rule that would expressly deny African Americans an opportunity (Blake, 2004). At Stetson University, several phases directed its integration process. The integration process at the institution was not as difficult as that of other institutions. One of the main reasons why the college had an easy time in the integration process, was the involvement of all stakeholders particularly the students and the faculty. There was a vote towards integration and there was a rift between the faculty and the students. At the time, Blake (2004) states that the majority of the students were against the integration of the institution. On the other side, there was the faculty which felt that there was nothing wrong with integration. Like in many other institutions at the time, the students held protests to oppose any integration efforts. However, there were no deep slavery connotations in the institution which made it easy to integrate. At the same time, although it is found in one of the Confederate States, there was the absence of strong opposition among the leadership. Therefore, in the end, the integration was almost smooth save for a few incidences.

The law on integration

The country has the same set of laws. However, when it came to the issue of integration, there were differences in its application. As already noted, the Confederate states found in the south were strongly opposed to integration, as they were to the end of slavery. However, the case in the north was different. Most of the states in the north did abide by the law although not strictly. There were laws in place as soon as the passing of the 13th amendment took place in many states in the north. However, their implementation was slow which still ensured that there was segregation even in the north. New Jersey has been a model state in the enactment of laws which encourage integration with a specific reference to the schools (Davison, 1997). Additionally, it is also one of those that were first to adopt a constitutional provision which made it illegal to segregate anyone in schools on the basis of race. There is also Connecticut which had similar steps although it shied away from stating expressly that such segregation should be stopped in schools. Despite the bold steps, there have been ways to circumvent the integration. As a way of obeying the law and retaining the segregation, white families moved to suburban areas where the population of the blacks was low. The fact is evident by the finding that the highest number of students in suburban areas is white while in the urban areas are the blacks (Johnson,1993).

However, unlike the easy integration in the north, the case was different in the south as there was open rejection. The leaders together with the white citizenry openly criticized the Supreme Court ruling on the Brown case. Years later, they were to face a similar predicament when James Meredith filed a suit against the Mississippi University decrying its action to deny him an opportunity due to his race (Chin & Chin, 2017). The university had made a requirement on all its executive members stopping any action that would implement the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education. The University further made a requirement that any entrant should have about five letters of recommendation which would come from the alumni. It was clear that since it was an all-white institution, getting the letters of recommendation by any black applicant would prove difficult, if not impossible. The district court trial was equally biased against the plaintiff where the prosecution was bent on painting the blacks as criminals who should remain at certain classes in the society. Any application by the prosecution, including that of adjournment was quickly granted despite the nature of the case which had time constraints. Eventually, the district court ruled that the plaintiff was not denied entry to the university based on his race. On the second appeal, Meredith had his way but the state using judges opposed to segregation succeeded in causing delays to his admission. It was through the intervention of the Supreme Court that orders to admit the plaintiff was made. In a quick rejoinder, Ross Barnett who was the governor of the state made a statement on the radio saying that no integration would happen under his watch. In the fullness of time, the struggle paid off by helping to open the University of Mississippi and others in the region to integration.

Eventual integration

Clemson University was also involved in court battles in a bid to remain segregated. However, in 1963, it admitted Harvey Gant as its first African American thus starting the process of integration. Its history with slavery and the open bias have kept the numbers of African Americans relatively low. In a state where the number of African Americans is high, the enrolment of the students is below expectation. Additionally, the university has not also done well in breaking the ice of racism in its operations. As a result, bitter memories remain in the university and drive a barrier between white and African American students. For instance, despite the role that Benjamin Tillman played in slavery and ensuring segregation, there is a hall named in his honor. Similarly, the school administration found it fit to erect a plaque on the entrance of the hall with a slogan depicting integration and honor (Clemson Library, n.d). The move is read as a mockery to those who call for changes in the management of the campus and an admission of the wrongs committed against the African American minority. In fact, the naming of the hall in honor of Tillman is subject to discussion. Those calling for the change of the name of the hall state that the university is proud of its segregation past by retaining the name of a person who had such strong sentiments against integration.


It is evident from the discussion above that integration continues to be a heated issue many years after it gained pace.  The paper demonstrated how Clemson approached integration differently compared to other institutions of higher learning during the time. It discussed various facets regarding why integration was slow. It also went ahead to explore approaches these institutions took to comply. Some of the reasons why integration was slow were due to the military history of the institutions which took longer to fade and assimilate civilians to the college. Besides, the founders of the college were famous for their dealings with slaves and this slowed down the war to achieving integration in the institution. Additionally, the integration was still slow since colleges founded around this time were all white. It is important to note that the flagship states were still bitter with the loss of slaves and could not envision the integration of their schools. Integration also slowed down because African Americans had limited access to educational funding. As a result, there was poor education for the blacks and it became hard or even impossible for them to effectively compete with their white counterparts as the playing field was not even.   

On the other hand, various institutions approached the integration issue differently. For example, although Stetson College was an all-white college at its founding, the charter did not have any rule that would expressly deny African Americans an opportunity. Therefore, the integration process at the institution was not as difficult as that of other institutions. Similarly, there were constitutional provisions which made it illegal to segregate anyone in schools on the basis of the race including the 13th amendment and Connecticut. Finally, even though some southern institutions, such as Clemson were slow to start the integration process, the college finally joined the journey to integration in 1963 when it admitted Harvey Gant as its first African American. Therefore, despite the protests, there is progress both in the north and south towards full integration not only in education but all social facilities as it was envisioned.


Andrew R. (2016). The Southern Military School Tradition. “The Desegregation of Clemson College.” Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association. Retrieved August 9, 2016 from

Blake, J. (2004). The Integration of Stetson University. The Florida Historical Quarterly, 82(4), 468-485. Retrieved from

Chin, D., & Chin, K. (2017). CONSTANCE BAKER MOTLEY, JAMES MEREDITH, AND  THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI. Columbia Law Review, 117(7), 1741-1777.      Retrieved from

Clemson Library, (n.d), Havey Gant at Dr. Harolds and Mrs. Eugenia Hills at 50th

aniversary. Pinckey 015. Retrieved from:

Clemson Library., (n.d), the Pinckey and Gatt family. Pinckey 014. Retrieved from:

Davison M. Douglas * (February, 1997). ARTICLE: The Limits of Law in Accomplishing Racial Change: School Segregation in the Brown North. UCLA Law Review, 44, 677. Retrieved from

Eisiminger, S. (2003). Integration with Dignity: A Celebration of Harvey Gantt's Admission to Clemson.

Johnson, A. (1993). Bid Whist, Tonk, and United States v. Fordice: Why Integrationism Fails African-Americans Again. California Law Review, 81(6), 1401-1470. doi:10.2307/3480955

November 13, 2023


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