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September 11, 1963: A Day that Changed South Carolina History

September 11, 2013

By: Mary Anne Fitzpatrick

As Robert G. Anderson, Henrie Dobbins Monteith, and James L. Solomon Jr. approached the registration desks to enroll in their classes for the fall semester of 1963, the state of South Carolina witnessed a watershed moment that instigated the destruction of Jim Crow legislation that previously held a stranglehold on racial progress in the southern states. In reflecting upon the University’s atmosphere in this pivotal transition period, Monteith recalled “The future was drumming at the heels of South Carolina in 1962-63, but only a few of us were listening.” In becoming the first African Americans to enroll in the University since the Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War, Anderson, Monteith, and Solomon followed a legacy of grassroots activism that defined black southerners for over three centuries.

The transition was surely not easy. While the events of September 11, 1963 proceeded peacefully, these students were subjected harassment and isolation by unwelcoming peers. In reflecting upon these events, I have concluded that they knew they were involved in an event much greater than themselves, an event that would transform the face of the University of South Carolina, forever. In prompting such compelling changes it is sometimes easy to forget that these three individuals were still quite young when they initiated such a controversial maneuver. While many of their peers were still discovering their life’s trajectories, these three young people challenged the hypocrisy of a government that actively promoted racial inequality while pledging allegiance to a nation that was founded upon the principle that all of its citizens were created equal.  By setting their standards high, each of these students embodied the University’s goals to produce graduates who not only meet the standards of the classroom, but excel in life’s ambitions.

The desire for education, of course, has always held significant motivation in challenging the status quo, no matter one’s age. Just as former slaves like Frederick Douglass had taught themselves to read despite the proscriptions against slave literacy, African Americans barred from the South Carolina’s flagship institution in the twentieth century initiated a peaceful, but vocal, campaign that challenged legislative enactments that held firm for nearly a century. By toppling the legislative restrictions, Anderson, Montieth, and Solomon also spurred cultural changes that helped chip away the social barriers that prevented interaction and cultural understanding between white and black South Carolinians. The diversity seen on campus today is a testament to this critical event that took place on September 11, 1963.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that each of these students pursued degrees in the College of Arts and Sciences. As the Dean of this remarkable college, I was humbled to take part in the first of many events to commemorate their courageous actions. I look forward to the many events scheduled throughout this academic year (http://www.sc.edu/desegregation/), I hope that this commemoration promotes further awareness of the events of 1963 and serves as motivation to continuously combat social injustices that continue to plague American society.

Finally, I would like to thank Tyler Parry for his assistance with the historic background of this piece.  Tyler is currently completing his dissertation in the Department of History under the direction of Carolina Distinguished Professor Daniel Littlefield.  His primary fields of concentration are U.S. history from the colonial to antebellum period, and secondary fields in Sub-Saharan Africa and Atlantic history. His current research is supported by a dissertation fellowship funded by the Bilinski Foundation.

Read Previous Posts By Dean Fitzpatrick.

Photos in the order that they appear on the page.
1. Iconic 1963 photo, Robert G. Anderson, Henrie Monteith Treadwell and James L. Solomon Jr.
2. 50 years later, Henrie Monteith Treadwell and James L. Solomon Jr.
3. Tyler Parry,  History graduate student.