Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the enrollment of Harvey Gantt, the first African American student legally allowed to earn his degree at Clemson. Although Gantt was the first African American student, followed several years later by the first African American professors and professional staff, a number of African American men and women helped build and keep Clemson operating since ground was broken for the first building in 1890.
Most of these men and women, who took care of the grounds, worked on the college farm, built buildings, prepared and served the food and washed dishes in the dining hall, operated the laundry or cleaned the classrooms and residence buildings, are lost to history. However, some are documented among the archival photographs in the Special Collections Library.
Helping the campus veterinarian, c1920s:
Operating the crane that set the Sirrine Hall cornerstone in place, 1937:
Working in the dining hall, early 1950s:
Although most of their names are unknown, a few of these employees can be identified.
This photo was in a scrapbook kept by a student who graduated from Clemson in 1925. The same photo was in the 1925 Taps labeled “Chemistry Science Club.” The man seated on the left also is pictured with the Chemistry Science Club in the 1926 Taps and identified as “Ike.”
A little research reveals he is Isaac Brown, who worked as a janitor in the chemistry building from 1900 to 1938. His death was mentioned in an article in The Tiger on February 17, 1938, noting he was “a friend to all who knew him.”
Other photos are easier to identify. The following photo in the University Archives also appeared in The Greenville News with a caption identifying the employees and their years of service to Clemson when they were awarded pins by President Poole in December 1952.
Seated, left to right: Frank Dillard, manager of the laundry, 41 years; Tom Littlejohn, mess hall, 36 years; Estella English, laundry, 37 years; Lawrence Williams, mess hall, 39 years; George Smith, barracks, 41 years; Edward Ligon, Jr., barracks, 42 years; Frances Townes, laundry, 43 years; Robert McKinney, mess hall, 44 years. Standing, left to right: J.C. Littlejohn, business manager of the college; David Green, mess hall, 25 years; Willie Reid, mess hall, 28 years; Rebecca Gilliard, laundry, 26 years; Leonard Gilliard, mess hall, 30 years; Louis Martin, mess hall, 36 years; Leah Grier, laundry, 27 years; Roscoe Collins, mess hall, 28 years; Andrew Reid, mess hall, 31 years; Janie Watkins, laundry, 26 years; Daniel C. Brown, laundry, 27 years; James B. Lindsay receiving the award for his father, James G. Lindsay, who served in the mess hall for 36 years and was college mess officer at the time of his death; and Dewey Sears, barracks, 30 years.
One of the best sources for learning more about the lives of the men and women who worked behind the scenes at Clemson for many years, as well as about other local area residents, is the Black Heritage in the Upper Piedmont of South Carolina Project Collection (mss 282).