Meet the man who transformed the architecture of Charlotte in the 70s and became its first black mayor

Stephen Nartey May 18, 2023
Harvey Bernard Gantt/Photo credit: National Society of Black Engineers via Facebook

While young Harvey Bernard Gantt observed his father building their home with his bare hands, it stoked his interest in his future career, and by ninth grade, he knew he wanted to be an architect. Though he was always seen drawing in school, he was never discouraged by his teachers, according to our state.

In the atmosphere of that promising future, Harvey’s dream found itself at a time when racial segregation was rife. He was offered admission to Iowa State University when he completed Burke high school, in 1960, but, Harvey had a strong interest in Clemson University’s Architecture program.

Though his application was initially rejected because of his race, he gained admission after a long legal battle, which he won on an appeal, arguing on the grounds of racial discrimination. He was offered admission in 1963 and completed Clemson in 1965. He was then joined by Lucinda Brawley at Clemson, whom he later married. They were the first black students to graduate from the university.

He later applied to join Odell Associates in Charlotte when he completed his education, and was fascinated by the sense of community in the city. Before rolling out his vision to build a model integrated community, he decided to offer his master’s degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This period coincided with businessman Floyd Mckissick’s dream to build a model integrated city in Warren County. Harvey was employed as a senior planner on the Soul City project and fell in love with it, however, the vision did not materialize as planned due to the lack of funding from investors.

Harvey later decided to return to his home city of Charlotte to establish an architectural firm in 1971, and partnered with Jeff Huberman to establish Gantt Huberman Architects. The firm did not only build homes, but also infused designs that promoted a sense of community.

Today’s identity of Charlotte is hinged on the foundation Harvey laid in the seventies, ranging from the Charlotte Transportation Center, TransAmerica Square, ImaginOn, Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, and the Johnson C. Smith University Science Center. He was involved in planning and developing the city.

Harvey later became the first black mayor of the city he helped shape; in 1983, he was voted with 52 percent of the vote. He served two terms, and interestingly, many of his votes came from the white majority. His legacy was leveraging the sense of community to get people to work together to achieve Charlotte’s objective of becoming a model community.

Last Edited by:Editor Updated: June 11, 2023


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