UofSC dedicates garden to honor first black students since Reconstruction

Posted on: 4/11/2014; Updated on: 2/10/2015
By Peggy Binette, 803-777-7704

A garden adjacent the Osborne Administration Building on the University of South Carolina campus was dedicated Friday morning (April 11) in honor of the three students who integrated the university in 1963.

 Situated along the university’s north wall, the Desegregation Commemorative Garden features a trinity of sculpted juniper topiaries, flowered beds, curving brick pathways and a granite monument etched with an original poem written by university poet Nikky Finney.

 Surrounded by university officials, students, faculty, family and members of the community, Henrie Monteith (now Treadwell) and James L. Solomon reflected on their 50-year journey that began with Robert G. Anderson as they climbed the steps of Osborne to register for classes. The two (Anderson has since died) retraced those steps Sept. 11 to begin a yearlong commemoration culminating with the garden’s dedication and an evening of music and dance performance April 12.

 President Harris Pastides said he hopes the garden will inspire students and others to reflect on the pioneering spirit of Monteith, Solomon and Anderson and to consider the role they play in the journey forward in the unfolding history of desegregation.

 “Much like the variety of plants in this beautiful garden, our strength comes from our diversity,” said Pastides.  “This garden serves as a permanent reminder of the tremendous progress we have made since that historic day in 1963, and provides us a special place that will grow and flourish as the university continues to move forward on this journey.”

In addition to Pastides, I.S. Leevy Johnson, the first African-American graduate of the university's School of Law, spoke and newly elected Student Body President Lindsay Richardson read Finney's Poem, which is etched on a monument at the center of a circular area with granite benches. She also read a statement from Finney, who could not attend the dedication, about her vision for the poem, titled "The Irresistible Ones."  

 “My hope was to find one word that would make the readers of the poem slow down and linger a bit as they read it,” wrote Finney.  “‘The Irresistible Ones’ has a double meaning. There is the Irresistible word, and there is also the Resist word embedded inside of it. I went for a long walk and took only that word with me. As I walked I lifted it up to the sunlight and turned it over a few dozen times. Before I returned home I had found this lovely opposite that became my door as I wrote.”

 Topiary artist Pearl Fryar talked about his own civil rights journey and shared his vision for the his living sculptures – two spiral-shaped junipers and a third featuring three pompoms connected by an arc representing unity – that are still young but will fill out over the next few years.

 “I like to let people see what they want in my plants,” said Fryar who was on the picket lines during the civil rights movement and who attended North Carolina College (now N.C. Central) in the late 1950s and 1960s.

 “If you had told me 50 years ago that one day I would be asked to do this sculpture, I would have thought I’d lost my mind. This is huge and shows how far we’ve come.”

After the garden dedication a group of graduate and undergraduate students presented their research, each exploring a different aspect of  the African American experience at Carolina from 1865 – 1980.

The university will conclude its yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of desegregation with “Our Journey Forward: Remembering Our Past, Celebrating Our Progress, Sharing Our Future, a free performance of commissioned works for dance and music at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 12, in the Koger Center for the Arts.

 More information about the yearlong observance, “Embracing Change. Fulfilling the Dream: Commemorating 50 Years of USC Desegregation,” is available online.


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