The University of Southern California is not in South Carolina. You would think this goes without saying but some people need to hear it. They are known as the Trojans, they have almost 40,000 students, and every year the school receives more donations than almost any other university. They need those donations because while New York is the old world of inherited position, Los Angeles is the new world where nobodies just buy their way in, and USC is not just IN LA but in many ways IS LA.
I have been to more than 200 hundred American college campuses and nowhere have I been surrounded by so many kids who look like well-manicured super athletes. Remember that one sociology class you had sophomore year with all the football players? They would show up in sweat pants, unshaven, with bed head. At USC they arrive in crisp ironed t-shirts with tweezed eyebrows. These polished Adonises appear in white brown and black, male and female, with the only requirements being that they appear chiseled and leave behind first place trophies. There are so many trophies.
Winning is a big deal at USC.
At Harvard you can find a statue of John Harvard. At Penn you find a bronze Ben Franklin. At USC you find statues of a dog wearing a cap playing with a football, the 1969 defensive line nicknamed the Wild Bunch, a white horse named Traveler, several bronze Trojan warriors, actor Douglass Fairbanks, and six, count them six, Heisman trophies. There would be seven but Reggie Bush lost his due to NCAA violations. O.J. Simpson’s is still on display in the Hall of Champions.
The University of South Carolina was founded by a state charter in 1801 and was the 23rd college founded in the United States. It was only for white people. When South Carolina started the Civil War, the students went off to fight for the South and the school closed, then it was occupied by Northern forces. After the war (1865) it was reopened under South Carolina’s reconstruction government.
They, the reconstructionists, made the school open to Black people. And it wasn’t just the students. One of the new professors they hired after the war ended was Richard Theodore Greener, America’s first Black professor at any state run flagship university (he was also the first Black person to graduate from Harvard). By 1875 ninety percent of the student body were Black.
When reconstruction was abandoned and democrats retook the state government (1876), they quickly closed the school down. Then in 1880 they reopened the school, but only to White people. After the passing of Brown vs. the Board of Education, which outlawed segregation, USC became the nation’s first college to require an entrance exam. That was 1954. The school did not admit any Black students till 1963.
Mind you, Professor Greener (who left the school when the democrats closed it down) graduated Harvard back in 1870, almost 100 years earlier.
History is not a straight line ascending up and up eternally. It weaves a drunkards path, back and forth, forward and back. Forward progress is not, and has never been, natural or inevitable.
I once lived in South Carolina and was nearly run out of town due to my insistence that the rest of the United States believes USC is in Los Angeles.
I have a working theory that this is the real reason South Carolina led the southern states in secession back in 1861.
Turns out this is not the school’s only point of contention.
There was a day when the “South Carolina College”, founded 1801, was the undisputed intellectual training ground of the American South’s elite sons. Those with means sent their young men to the college to learn to be leaders. It was the feeder system for South Carolina’s government. The state house is only two blocks away.The school put extra emphasis on the power of oratory and debate. The Euphradian Society, founded in 1806, held regular debates on current events and matters of importance, the hottest topic regularly being slavery.
In this upper room of Harper College at USC, students and future leaders honed the argument on why slavery was justified and secession necessary or unavoidable. The debates easily moved from the college over to the capitol.
Under the guise of a harmless tourist I started asking questions of people sitting behind desks. Their uncomfortable looks and lack of answers led me to the basement of the library where lives a very friendly and amiable professor of history. She was happy to talk to me… because she has tenure.
The question that flummoxed the tour guides was, “Are there any buildings left on campus that were known to have originally been used to house slaves?” Turns out the answer is a remarkable “yes”. Remarkable in that it is one of only two remaining such buildings in the country (the other one is at UVA).
What is listed as the carriage house next to the President’s mansion, was originally the quarters of the house slaves. There is no marker, no plaque, no mention anywhere on any official publication of this historical fact other than a byline in a pamphlet.
The good professor went on to tell me of her and her student’s struggles to bring facts like these to light. She believes there are folks on the board who would rather not talk about such unpleasantry. They fail to see any relevance in these details.
She went on to tell more of the school’s history that the board does not like retold. The PR man in me understands why, but what she told me next is so tragically interesting that I cannot see how any student, or institution for that matter, interested in history would skip this tale.
During the civil war the school closed and became a confederate hospital. When the North marched through Columbia it became the home of Union troops that remained through reconstruction.
At the close of the war classes resumed and control was turned back over to the state. When Franklin J. Moses was elected governor (1872), the college integrated. By 1876 the school was predominantly black.
A state school in 1876 predominantly black!? Wow!
In 1876 South Carolina began burning again. Sherman had nothing to do with this fire, it was politics, but the flames were just as real. Republican and Democrats both claimed victory and the incumbent was kept in power by Federal forces. Then the President, Rutherford B. Hayes, ended reconstruction and ordered the troops to stand down. This led to the incumbent not just leaving office but leaving town.
Wade Hampton III, a former confederate general took office and in 1877 the University closed its doors, reopening three years later as an all-white school.
It would not admit another black student till federal law forced the school leaders to do so in 1963.
I suppose we have all moved past those days. It is all just history so why should we bring it up today? Lets all just move on. That is fair. The students giving tours seemed to not know any of this story. They did not tell it and when asked looked confused. Why should a chemistry major know about this stuff anyhow?
My father would have been 20 years old in 1963. How “historical” is that?