One of USC's first African-American students reflects on desegre - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

One of USC's first African-American students reflects on desegregation

James Soloman was one of three African-American students who enrolled at USC after the school desegregated. James Soloman was one of three African-American students who enrolled at USC after the school desegregated.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Diversity is a staple for most college campuses in 2013, but 50 years ago this week, three African-American students became the first to break down the barriers of segregation at the University of South Carolina.

"I was born in 1930," said James Soloman, one of those students. "I know what Jim Crow is, I know what racism is."

Solomon thought he had lived through the worst of it by 1963.

"1963, it wasn't unpopular for whites to act racist, those who wanted to. They were still asking blacks to ride on the back of the bus," said Soloman.

But it was in that year the Georgia native was granted enrollment at a school that had mixed feelings about having him there.

"People would stand behind the blinds and yell obscenities, 'Was your daddy a monkey'?, 'Do you have a tail?'" said Soloman.

In the south, an undercurrent of unrest from those oppressed was rising to the surface and Soloman's arrival on campus only fueled a tide of ignorance.

"That pattern of separateness among the races was being challenged by the civil rights movement," said Lacy Ford, vice provost and dean of Graduate Studies at USC.

"A significant number of their fellow students did not want them there," said Val Littlefield, director of African-American Studies at USC.

The first day was quiet, as was the next two years at USC for Soloman as he pursued his graduate studies.

"I was 33 years old in 1963. I was in the Air Force when it was desegregated. I grew up on the mean streets of Atlanta in a housing project," said Soloman. "It just wasn't that much of a deal to me."

Soloman and his two fellow African-American classmates opened the doors for 11 more African-American students to enroll the next year.

"By the late 60's you do see protests, you do see students strategizing to become student body president, homecoming queen," said Littlefield. "Those issues are addressed by black students."

Soloman went on to hold public office multiple times after graduating from USC. Five decades after a reluctant admittance, he's proud of how far the school has come.

"I think this should be a teaching moment," said Soloman. "We should note those things that give us pride, and we should try to work to correct those things that give us heartache."

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.

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