Photo: Leah Grubb

First black students return 50 years after desegregating USC

Treadwell, Solomon return 50 years later

While the original iconic steps they climbed have been replaced, Henrie Monteith Treadwell and James Solomon Jr. stood at the front of the Osborne Administration Building Wednesday morning, marking 50 years since they first left it as students.

Treadwell and Solomon were joined by university President Harris Pastides, who welcomed them “back home to the University of South Carolina” that they changed forever with desegregation.

“As three students approached this building on Sept. 11, 1963, it was past time to do so,” Pastides said.

Pastides called the students “heroes,” but Treadwell gave credit to those around her 50 years ago and today.

“So many people walked up those steps with me. They carried me up those steps,” Treadwell said. “I was confident. I was supported, and I am still supported.”

Solomon and Treadwell stressed the need to keep moving forward in the name of diversity and inclusivity.

“I was born in a small town in Georgia in 1930. I’ve lived through Jim Crow … We must remember and embrace our history as not to repeat it,” Solomon said. “I hope in the next 50 years — no, the next 10 years — South Carolina will celebrate real racial harmony and prosperity for all of its citizens.”

Solomon also used the occasion to call for an improvement in South Carolina’s educational system.

“We must find solutions to the conditions in the Corridor of Shame,” Solomon said, citing the poor, largely African-American area along I-95.

The commemorative event included the reveal of a reflective garden, which will be built this year. The garden will include topiaries designed to represent Treadwell, Solomon and Robert Anderson, the third student whose enrollment desegregated USC. Anderson died in 2009 and his family attended Wednesday’s event.

Treadwell and Solomon took up shovels and turned over dirt, symbolically beginning the garden’s construction. One shovel was left stationary, honoring Anderson.

The garden will feature steps representing the original steps in front of Osborne. They will be engraved with verses of poetry written by Nikky Finney, an award-winning poet and visiting professor.

Finney, too, marked the day as not only one of reflection, but an occasion to encourage further progress.

“We don’t want to go back, but we also don’t need to take baby steps,” Finney said. “It can’t just be what it used to be. It has to be something drastically, beautifully, honorably different.”

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