When Constance Gantt arrived at USC three years ago, “it was just coming to college.”
“It’s nothing you really think about,” said Gantt, a fourth-year elementary education student.
It’s hard for her to believe that until 50 years ago, USC was a racially segregated campus — hard to believe, she says, because an integrated life is all she’s ever known.
“It’s still a little unbelievable that at one point in time the way we live is not the way it was, and being in an integrated institution was not commonplace,” Gantt said. “I can’t believe that 50 years ago, I would not have had the same life that I have now. Some of the opportunities that I have been awarded would not have been possible or would have been extremely difficult to attain.”
She’s embraced some of those opportunities as secretary of USC’s chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., a historically African-American sorority founded in 1920 at Howard University. USC’s chapter opened in 1977, just over a decade after the university desegregated. It’s one of the eight historically black Greek-letter organizations that make up the university’s National Pan-Hellenic Council.
The majority of USC’s NPHC chapters were founded on campus within 15 years of the school’s desegregation.
Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. was founded nationally in 1963 — the same year as USC’s desegregation — but only came to campus in 2006. Rashawn Fulmore, USC chapter president, said many of the organization’s historical members were civil rights activists and even included members of the Black Panther Party.
1963, Fulmore said, was a powerful year. Iota Phi Theta at USC represents a continuation of the progress that was made in that year, he said.
“When we all come together as a collegiate unit, it’s just unity, and that goes back to progression and unity as well,” Fulmore said.
The Greek-letter system at USC, though, remains an essentially segregated population, with the vast majority of non-white Greeks represented in NPHC or Multicultural Greek Council organizations. Some NPHC members say the segregation between traditionally white and traditionally non-white organizations is obvious, but not intentional or malicious.
“It’s more of a comfort-level thing. We go where we go,” Gantt said. “We take after the other women we know. My mother is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho. I grew up knowing more about NPHC organizations than (National Panhellenic Conference sororities).”
For members of NPHC organizations, the 50th anniversary of USC’s desegregation is a reminder of how far their organizations and their race have come on a southern campus.
“It’s really important for NPHC, because one of the reasons we’re here is that we wanted something for ourselves, wanted to stand out not just as black people, but as black leaders who want to serve our community,” said Briana Quarles, vice president of NPHC for Sorority Council and a member of Zeta Phi Beta.
Gantt can imagine where she might be now if Henrie Monteith, James Solomon, Jr. and Robert Anderson hadn’t walked down the steps of the Osborne Administration Building 50 years ago today — probably studying at a historically black school like S.C. State University or Howard University, she said.
It’s harder, she said, to imagine where USC would be now if it hadn’t desegregated in 1963 — “I guess the same place it was 50 years ago.”
But thinking about USC’s past has her wondering about its future.
“It makes me wonder where USC will be in 50 more years,” Gantt said. “I hope it’ll be better than it is tomorrow.”
Assistant News Editor Hannah Jeffrey contributed reporting.