African American Trailblazer Harvey Gantt Addresses Democratic National Convention

Posted September 6th, 2012 at 5:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Before U.S. President Barack Obama speaks Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, delegates and viewers heard from a man who once inspired him — the city's first African-American mayor Harvey Gantt.

Born in South Carolina in 1943, Gantt became the first African American admitted to an all-white college in the southern state when he enrolled at Clemson University.

After becoming an architect and opening his own firm in Charlotte, Gantt took his first position in politics in 1974 as a member of the Charlotte city council.

He went on to serve as the city's mayor from 1983 to 1987, but is likely best known for the fight he took on just three years later, challenging Republican U.S. Senator Jesse Helms in a bid to become the American South's first black senator since Reconstruction, known as the period after the U.S. Civil War, which ended in 1865.

Gantt lost the 1990 race and a second challenge in 1996 against Helms, but in what came as a shock to many, both races were extremely close. Gantt lost the first by just 6 percentage points and the second by 7 points. And he is credited with making history yet again as the first African American nominee for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina.

Gantt took the stage Thursday night to introduce a film honoring Democratic leaders who have died during the past four years.

A photo hanging in Gantt's home shows Mr. Obama, then a 29-year-old Harvard law student, in a “Harvey Gantt for U.S. Senate” shirt. On the photo, the president wrote, “To Harvey–an early inspiration! Barack Obama.”