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Title: Oral History Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986. Interview C-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Gantt, Harvey B., interviewee
Interview conducted by Haessly, Lynn
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 124 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-02-12, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986. Interview C-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0008)
Author: Lynn Haessly
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986. Interview C-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series C. Notable North Carolinians. Southern Oral History Program Collection (C-0008)
Author: Harvey B. Gantt
Description: 136 Mb
Description: 39 p.
Note: Interview conducted on January 6, 1986, by Lynn Haessly; recorded in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Ron Bedard.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series C. Notable North Carolinians, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with Harvey B. Gantt, January 6, 1986.
Interview C-0008. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Gantt, Harvey B., interviewee


Interview Participants

    HARVEY B. GANTT, interviewee
    LYNN HAESSLY, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
LYNN HAESSLY:
This is Lynn Haessly. It is January 6, 1986, and I'll be interviewing Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt in his city hall office. As I explained, I'd like to talk to you about your life beginning with your childhood and your family background. Can you tell me about where you were born and your family?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, I was born in Charleston County, on one of the islands surrounding Charleston, Young's Island to be exact. My family, my mother and father, were very young—my father was twenty-one, my mother was eighteen. We moved immediately to Charleston when I was an infant. I lived in public housing in the City of Charleston then, as opposed to the county. My father got a job working in the war industries. At that time, Charleston was a big naval base; it still is. For the first four years of my life I lived in public housing. Then my father decided to move out of public housing as things got better for him and he got a leg up on the economic ladder. And as the war wound down, we moved to the center of Charleston in our own house. Probably I got my first interest in architecture by remembering that he built the house himself and started off and the house sort of grew with our family. I ultimately had four sisters, me being the oldest in the family. I went to public schools; first went out to a kindergarten school that I remember very vividly because I somehow didn't like the idea of going to school and the teacher was rather mean. But I went to public school and never went to first grade—I always remember that, I never was a first grader. I went from kindergarten to second grade.

Page 2
LYNN HAESSLY:
Why was that?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, because the first day or two that they put me in first grade they found that I had done so well in kindergarten that there was no point in keeping me there and so they put me in second grade. My mother was very pleased about that.
LYNN HAESSLY:
You were a high achiever from early on.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I didn't call it a high achiever then but, yes, I guess you could say that. I remember her being so very happy about me going into second grade after only about two days in school. But apparently they tested me, I don't remember the test, and I moved to second grade.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Let me turn you back and ask you about your family background a little more. Had your family's families lived in the sea islands off Charleston? Is that where they had come from?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Yes, they all came from Young's Island. My mother's family, as far back as they can remember, and my father's family came from two different sections of the island. My father came the Adams Run area of Young's Island and my mother came from the Oakville area of Young's Island. She was an only child but my father came from a big family of Gantts that were there. I would assume, you know, we got into this thing with Alex Haley, but we assume that there must have been some Gantts that owned a plantation or something in that area maybe a couple of generations or more back. My father's father had considerable landholdings, or at least it was considered amongst the folks in that area to be fairly large.

Page 3
LYNN HAESSLY:
Do you know how he acquired that?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I think he was given it, or at least earned it in some fashion. As a matter of fact, this last July 4th, we all took a sort of historical tour of the family holdings and went back into some deep sections of the islands to see land that was still being held by our family and had been passed on.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Had you visited the island regularly as a child to visit relatives?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Oh, yes. I visited my grandmother; it was a yearly trip that my sisters and I would go and spend the summer or at least two or three weeks of the summer where my father grew up. Very few trips to my maternal grandfather's home. He had a rather small farm and he died when I was about eleven years old. We spent most of our time with my paternal grandmother's homeplace. And so we got an appreciation for the rural life of South Carolina. We were always kidded as being the city kids because my father's brothers and children, our cousins, all grew up in the country so to speak.
LYNN HAESSLY:
So your forebears were farm owners rather than tenants on Young's Island?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
That's right.
LYNN HAESSLY:
One question I had wanted to ask you was to kind of characterize your family's social and economic status when you were growing up.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, I would have to say that my folks were economically the lower, lower income family, what I call salt of the earth working people, not a lot of frills, a great deal of

Page 4
love and attention of course to their children, and a great deal of belief in America as the land of opportunity if you work hard and you get an education. We had a high degree of emphasis on education. So we were middle class in concept. You know, we believed in the country and believed in those goals of the middle class that I think is the stuff that America is probably made of, which is a certain degree of education to gain a certain level of material acquisition to live comfortably and of course to do the same thing over and over again with your children. My father worked two or three jobs. In retrospect, probably at relatively low wages except in the latter parts of my stay at home he started to move up the ladder in the naval shipyard.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What kinds of different jobs did he have?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
He would do a little carpentry work on the side because he had taught himself carpentry when he built our house, so he would assist a small contractor on weekends. Oftentimes he held a job picking up dry cleaning for a dry cleaners. Things that you could do on the weekend. His most stable job, obviously, was the one he had working as a rigger mechanic at the navy yard, and as I started to say, he did generally that kind of laborious work for quite a few years until the latter part of my stay at home, which was when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old. He started to move up in the ranks to supervisor, etc., and I would say most of the years away from home before he retired he had entered some kind of supervisory position within the same group of people, where the physical work was not nearly as intense.

Page 5
LYNN HAESSLY:
Was your mother employed?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
My mother was a housewife for all of our time. We have these strong standards about women. My father had a strong feeling for the fact that with five children that my mother needed to be home with them. It's a value that I sort of carry, I'm kind of old-fashioned about that. I still feel very strongly about children coming home from school because when I used to come home from school, beginning as a little kid in kindergarten, the first thing I'd say when I hit the door was "Mama" and she would answer back and it was so reassuring to me. I didn't realize it was reassuring until later years looking back on it. And that really happened all the way through high school. I'd come home, whether it was from a football game or football practice or senior high club meeting or something and holler out that same "Mama." She was always home and I always tell the story about my father. The role of a father I think I probably emulate from the way my father treated us. He was never a pal to me and I was an only boy. You know, he didn't try to get out and play Little League baseball with me, occasionally he'd come to the games when I played football in high school and they would come as a family to the game. But he didn't get very gung ho and never tried to be a pal; he was always there, sort of reassuring. He would always be stern on discipline at the appropriate times. But he was a great talker about the weightier issues of the time, politics, etc., and it really is in my father that I got more of the inspiration to enter the world of politics first as a pioneer involved in other kinds of activities during the civil rights

Page 6
era. My mother, on the other hand, was always there. So it is in the little but important things about life that value transmissions occurred with my mother. My father was, for example, a very religious man but my mother said, "yes, your dad believes in God, I do too, but you shall study your homework and you shall put two hours of work into that because that is how you are going ultimately to be successful as an architect one day," and so forth and so on.
LYNN HAESSLY:
How young were you when you first realized that you wanted to be an architect?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I'm one of those fortunate people who early on recognized that I wanted to be an architect and that was in ninth grade. I consider that to be early, I mean, you toy around with a lot of things and I did probably as most kids do, wanting to be everything from a pharmacist to a doctor to a preacher to a lawyer. But finally it was putting together my aptitude for drawing and my interest in the technical aspects of putting things together that led me to architecture.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What church did you go to?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I attended Morris Street Baptist Church with my family. I literally grew up in that church. My father and mother came from the island and they were members of a small Baptist church that we revisited this summer also. They came right in and settled into that church and that's the only church that our family has known. They were both very active in it and we grew up in it literally to speak, you know, being members of

Page 7
the choir and the Boy Scouts and all the central things I think you go do there.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What do you remember about drawing and what kinds of things did you do mechanically?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, I first of all remember about third grade one of my teachers noticed that I doodled in my pad quite a bit, and I would try to draw the prettiest girl in the class. She thought she would take that stray energy that was always doodling and drawing and get me to draw the Christmas scene or the Thanksgiving scene or the pumpkin and horn, etc. And I would do right well at it. She'd tell other teachers that "he can draw," you know, "let him draw this." I did that all the way through elementary school and people started to know me as a person who really could sketch very well. As I look back on it they weren't all that good in terms of sketches but they were probably better than most of the kids could draw. And I stuck to doing that. I did that all the way through high school for my own edification, just sketches, just drawing things that I saw and I do it even in city council meetings when I'm sitting down, just drawing things—doodling.
LYNN HAESSLY:
But you were rewarded for it early on, too, at least teachers recognized.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, they recognized the talent there and I guess by their pushing it, it gave me confidence. It was pulled out of me more so. My mother was concerned. She didn't want me to be an artist. She thought that that wasn't really a stable enough career. As I said, she was a very practical person who looked at

Page 8
things that way. So when I landed on architecture, it seemed to be the perfect blend. It seemed to make sense, too.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Can you talk a little about the social atmosphere in Charleston in the '50s when you were growing up?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Changing! You know, for the first ten years of my life I paid no attention to it. The things that happened around me were accepted. From our little house that my father built, I would walk past an elementary school—I mean, I'd walk up to the corner and I'd look to my left and there was a white elementary school, but I would turn to my right and go four or five blocks to a black elementary school. But they looked no different in my opinion and I thought nothing of it except that that's the way things were. If my mother took us on Saturdays shopping, we got on the bus, we as young kids would go to the back of the bus and we wouldn't question that too much at all. When we got to water fountains, we were taught early on that you drank from the colored fountain because white folks drank from the other one. So in other words, the world was made up a certain way. We lived generally in an integrated neighborhood. It was very strange. There were white people nearby and numbers of cases on the playgrounds without sanction we'd end up playing together. The law, we later found out, did not really allow that but kids would do it anyway, basketball …
LYNN HAESSLY:
Charleston is a city of alleys, isn't it?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
No, really it's a city where servants lived closer to the bigger houses and then they live along the alleys. Traditionally that's the way it is, not the alleys, of course,

Page 9
are just as expensive, in fact chic, in terms of having higher income units, or high income units. In the old days, the way the city was laid out, is you had the big houses around the Battery and lots of little, small alleys that were servants' quarters. That's how you got the kind of pattern of integration that occurred in many of the Southern cities like New Orleans and Charleston and Mobile. At any rate, at that time we lived not in that older section of Charleston and so most of the streets were standard little streets. You know, my world was colored by the drugstore around the corner, the street became a playground for us where we played football and stickball in the street, and the neighbors who lived around me, it was a very circumscribed world but it was very comfortable. I never felt "disadvantaged", which is a new word in the lexicon of the language that came in the late '60s and '70s. Comfortable, love, secure.
LYNN HAESSLY:
How would you characterize the education you got in elementary and in high school?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Excellent. I always have said that. I mean, I didn't know that the bad books or the books that were out of date were out of date. And I thought people were generally interested in me and my classmates and they wanted us to do well. There was a great deal of competition to do well, to achieve excellence, a lot of pushing about education. My folks were very much involved with the PTA and other people that were around me were involved. We were all relatively low income folks as it was. I don't want to use that term "low income." We were all salt of the earth kind of average, lower income Americans who had jobs.

Page 10
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did you have jobs when you were in high school?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Yes. I did the traditional: carried the paper, a black newspaper that I carried.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What was the name of it?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
The Baltimore Afro-American, it's still there. As a matter of fact, I remember I used to sell the paper for fifteen cents, got four cents for each paper I sold and, God, it seemed like a lot of money in those days. And after you sold forty papers you got four times forty which was a dollar sixty cents. It was a big deal. I graduated up from that to working as a delivery boy at a drugstore and I did that in my junior high school years. And then I graduated up from that to working in a supermarket on weekends. I guess that's ultimately the last job I had before I graduated from high school. In the last couple of years, I was involved in athletics.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What sports?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Football. Can't you guess? Let me go back to the social thing a minute because I said it was changing. It was comfortable up until year eleven. It changed dramatically for me with the Supreme Court decision in 1954. The Supreme Court's decision in 1954 was a watershed year in my whole life. I was about eleven years old and had become an avid reader. A couple years earlier I found this small branch library in the black community and teachers would encourage me to go there and to read. I started reading little boy's type novels about baseball, football, some short stories. And I started reading everything that I could get my hands on. But when this happened I started

Page 11
to get curious about the whole thing about segregation and why it was unconstitutional. And then I started to see our society in a different light, blacks, whites, and why we do things. Wow, there were actually people who questioned that! I never questioned it before and then I started.
LYNN HAESSLY:
When your father talked about politics, were civil rights one of the things that he talked about even before Brown?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
He was talking about it before but he talked about it primarily with my mother then. When I started asking questions it became more of a topic of conversation at the dinner table, as it started to become a topic of conversation at everybody's dinner table, I suppose. And I just voraciously consumed everything I could find. I read novels, news magazines, and he reinforced a lot of it. He himself was a member of the NAACP so I was very proud of my father for having the courage back then to be a member of that organization as I found out more about it. It finally manifested itself in the fact that he led an effort of parents to get the use of the white high school stadium because ours was in such bad shape. It was very dramatic to see him and other parents get together and cause a change to occur. So it was probably my family's first direct encounter with politics and [unknown], doing something about a problem. They had been active in the PTA and so it was almost natural for them to continue to be active. And their son was a quarterback on the football team, so they were [unknown] that much involved in it. But it also was the thing that allowed me—that occurred in 1957—that by the early part of 1960 as I was senior, that's when

Page 12
the sit-in started to occur and so I led. I had to act on my own conscience then about the system and had been sufficiently radicalized enough that I thought we ought to do something. I later on with a few other students led a sit-in demonstration which caused us to go to jail.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Tell me about that.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
We sat down at S. H. Kress's lunch counter, after planning to do so for about three or four weeks in selecting our students very carefully, about twenty-three of us. All of us seniors in high school, about to graduate, one April day in 1960, one month before graduation. Our parents were fit to be tied. We couldn't tell them about it. But we felt very strongly. I guess we were caught in that whole thing as it spread across the across the country. This wasn't right; it seemed ridiculous now that you really examined it.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did you have any organizational support for that?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
We were all youth members of the NAACP. But the whole effort was kind of an adjunct thing that was done in secrecy. We didn't want any and everybody to be a part of it. We started reading about Martin Luther King and non-violence and we were concerned that we got people who were not hot-headed because they would be a liability and all kinds of complications to occur. We didn't want any violence beyond whatever was necessary. We trained ourselves to resist the ridicule we would experience. What we were doing was developing statements on a lot of things that we'd read. We didn't get any of the national leaders to come down to give us any advice. In fact, they would

Page 13
not likely pay much attention to Charleston. Most of the action was occurring on big college campuses in North Carolina and other places.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Yes. I think it was unusual for high school students to have taken the initiative.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Very unusual.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Why?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
We were the only high school at that time when we got involved.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Why do you think that was?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Primarily because parental sanctions wouldn't allow it anyway, and we decided if we were going to do it we couldn't tell our parents.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Is there not a black university in Charleston?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
There is none. That was probably one of the other reasons is that it would never occur here, that it never would come to a head, and we felt that if thing were going to happen, the kind of negotiations they had gotten into in Greensboro to bring about some changes, you had to do something to make it happen because [unknown] to do something. This class that graduated in 1960 is a pretty unusual class, too. I think a lot of those people have gone on to be fairly well known in their field and so we had an unusual crop of leaders, I think, at that time.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Who were some of the other people who led the sit-in?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
James Blake who is now a Methodist minister in Charleston, who is doing quite well and probably will be a bishop

Page 14
in his church pretty soon. Myself. Cornelius Flood who is down at the University of Georgia working on a Ph.D. and working as a chief tutor of the entire athletic program at that school. Some of the names fade. Some of the members of that class: Dr. Deland Merriweather who is doing research in tropical Africa right now, used to be a well-known runner. The remarkable thing about him was that he became a sprint runner world-class well after people had given it up and he picked it up in his late twenties and early thirties and became a star featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A lot of people are doing very in their professions today.
LYNN HAESSLY:
And it was the boys rather than girls?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, there were women but the men led that actually. Anyway, that happened and it turned out to be a positive result. We were not locked up in a jail, we were kept in a courtroom. My parents came to pick us up. The City of Charleston acted in a very civil manner. We were charged and our case ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court which was thrown out. This was a couple years later, I was on my way to Clemson.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did it permanently change the segregation at the lunch counter?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Oh, it started a change in the minds of the whole place. It ultimately ended up in a movement that spread throughout all of Charleston. That occurred two years later, three years later. The year I went to Clemson, one of the same people, the young minister that led a movement called the Charleston Movement, which was massive demonstrations a la the

Page 15
Birmingham type things that occurred for public accommodations, not just lunch counters, but the whole works. That ultimately culminated in a large number of people who wanted to march on Washington and the North. I think all across the South those changes occurred during that year and the following year. But the sit-ins were the first, the very first, time this had ever happened.
LYNN HAESSLY:
When you began to think of going to college, what colleges did you pick out and apply to?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, there were two ways I looked at that. In the circumscribed world of segregation, there was Howard and Tuskeegee and A. & T.
LYNN HAESSLY:
North Carolina A. & T.?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Yes. I never applied to them. I only applied to Howard. But I had made a decision already, being into what I thought America was going to be all about in the future—that is an integrated world—I had already made a decision that I was going to go somewhere to get an integrated education. In other words, I wanted to be in a school where I was taught by black and white professors, etc., because architecture is practiced mainly by whites and I thought that you needed to be in an environment where I got that kind of teaching, or at least integrated teaching. I was a National Achievement Scholar out of high school and that meant that I had some scholarship to any school that I could get accepted to. Howard, and I applied to Iowa State, and Ohio State, and a few others, I don't remember all of them. And decided ultimately, I think I got accepted to all of

Page 16
them, the Ivy League schools were beyond question for me, I got accepted at Iowa State, thought that that would be a great place to go. It was in the midwest, in the middle of the country, in middle America. I got out there and didn't like it.
LYNN HAESSLY:
How many black students were there?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Not many. In fact, there weren't many blacks anywhere. And that was a culture shock for me; it was really a considerably different place than I had thought it would be. I was mesmerized by the big-time college football and seeing so many black athletes and assuming that the schools were a lot more integrated than they were and made it complicated to find out. Very few blacks matriculated at those universities and those that did were primarily athletes. As a matter of fact, in the first couple of days I was there standing in the registration line, everybody assumed that I was playing on the football team, which insulted me and was degrading.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

Page 17
LYNN HAESSLY:
Had you considered going to college on a football scholarship?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I had a scholarship at a small school in South Carolina, Claflin College. My high school coach was a graduate of that school. But, no, I wasn't that good, really, to consider myself for anything more. Our high school team did play in two state championship games and I love football a lot, but not enough to sacrifice architecture which required a lot of afternoon laboratories, which is precisely the time you play football. When I got to Iowa, I used to go occasionally and look at the football practice primarily because I'd gotten so used to playing football in high school during the fall of a year. As I watched the people play I felt I could play with them but it was just not in the cards. And my mother would have had a fit had I not stuck with architecture. That turned out to be the best decision.
LYNN HAESSLY:
When did you begin thinking of transferring and what schools did you consider transferring to?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I only considered one school and it was for the reason that I didn't like the cold weather and as I got more and more into it I found that Clemson had a pretty good school of architecture. Things just came to some logical conclusions as they do in my life. I mean, there are times when truth itself sort of snaps its head straight up in my face and you know that you've got to go in a different direction. It's like that period when I was politicized by the segregation decision, which was

Page 18
another kind of milestone that said, "it makes no sense for you. If you are lonely out here in the midwest which is hostile to your upbringing in terms of climate and being close to people you know, etc, you ought to be home. That's where you ought to go." And it was nice to make that decision on a twenty-three below zero day in Iowa.
LYNN HAESSLY:
You must have known that Clemson, even though it was close to home, would be even more all white and culturally different from your upbringing than Iowa State was then. What were your thoughts about that?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, as a matter of fact, Clemson turned out to be blacker. The great surprise was the day that I went up to register amidst the hullabaloo of all the news and press people. Once that was over, I remember going to my room, getting a clue of what the world was going to be like seeing a janitor in the corridor, black, and I realized how different that was immediately from Iowa, where the janitors were all white. Then I walked into the dining room, and here I'm expecting to see this sea of white faces, and literally all over the dining room are black people. Admittedly, in a subservient role or workers in the dining hall. I felt very comfortable. I walked through the line and I got the biggest piece of apple pie because these folks were handing it out to me. They were saying, "hey, we are glad you're here. Boy, we're going to take care of you." So, all of a sudden my world was a different one. It was, "hey, you're not alone at all. You're the only student but, my gosh, look around

Page 19
you. You're going to be taken care of because you're back home in the South."
LYNN HAESSLY:
I had wanted to ask you how you survived that experience emotionally. That was your support?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
That was the initial support. I don't think there is any environment I can ever go into where I'm not going to make friends with anybody, I don't care how hostile you're likely to be. Whether it's a group of females or whether it, back in those days, being a single man, I could never believe that anybody could stay angry with me. I just always have this confidence that if I can get you to sit down and look you in the eye we can talk, we can get to know each other. So all of the business at that time about ostracizing this pioneer, this integrationist, who wants to destroy our way of life, all of the efforts to make me something other than a human being, all of those efforts that say that he was an agent of some evil force that was causing some changes, just was ridiculous on its face. I always had a feeling that South Carolina was going to be like South Carolina was going to be, which is aristocratic, dignified, stiff upper lip. We are going to resist this to the end but we are going to do it with dignity and when we lose we are going to lose with dignity. We were one of the thirteen original colonies, da da da da da. I grew up in Charleston, I was accustomed to this kind of aristocracy that says that even if I can't appeal to your morality I can appeal to …, or to put it another way, if I couldn't, in my efforts to get into Clemson, appeal to the morality of the situation, which is that I had a right to go

Page 20
there, I could ultimately win out on manners. They were going to do the right thing in the end because they were told to do so but they'd do it with dignity.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Let me turn back and ask you about what the process was that enabled you to enter Clemson.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, after so many different efforts to get in at the beginning of the sophomore year at Iowa, I mean the latter part of freshman year at Iowa. Ultimately, I left Iowa State in the first quarter of my junior year, having filed a suit the previous summer, after we had tried on three different occasions for each semester to get in to it and being given different kinds of excuses.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Who was "we"? You said "we" had tried to get in.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
My lawyer and I. The first time I started this, I did it on my own and I sensed that they would do it. They sent me catalogs and nice things about Clemson. They delighted to have it in an application. I filled the application out and then we had trouble. The application then signalled that this was not a usual application because it was coming from a student who was at Iowa State who attended Burke High School in Charleston, South Carolina. Burke was known as a black school, so he had to be a black student. I got a letter back essentially saying, "hey, we notice you are doing very well at Iowa State. You're getting some state aid to go to school there, plus you are on a scholarship. Enjoy yourself!" Then I got mad. I went back and said, "but you don't understand. I want to go school there." The same lawyer that assisted us, Matthew Perry, in the sit-in

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case in high school when we met at the march. I remembered his name; called him up; and told him what I'd done. He said, "Great! Now, from now on, just send me a copy of all the letters you send them, a copy of all the letters they send back to you. And we'll see if we can't develop a file and if we can pursue it." And that's what happened.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Now, the case that led up to the Brown decision had been very much orchestrated by the Legal Defense Fund and they were bringing suits all over the country. Your decision to enter Clemson was not a part of that.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
People keep wanting to make it that. No, it was not a part of that grand design. It really wasn't. I never had anybody to talk to me about doing that or even thinking about doing that. A lot of people have wondered about that all these years. Stories about Harvey going to Iowa State as a kind of training for going to Clemson, and that it was planned by the Legal Defense Fund, but that is not true, absolutely not true, never was.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did you get any support from the NAACP after you began to file your suit?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Oh, the Legal Defense Fund took the case over once it had gotten to the point where it was clear that they were going to resist my application. We sought to exhaust all the administrative avenues we could force. And after Perry took the case, after about the third or fourth exchange of letters, and I think the state then knew that we would be getting some legal help.

Page 22
LYNN HAESSLY:
He was with the Legal Defense Fund?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
He had his own law practice but he was like Julius Chambers. He was really employed by the Legal Defense Fund for a lot of the cases in South Carolina.
LYNN HAESSLY:
So they paid the legal fees.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
They paid our legal fees. My family didn't have to pay it; they couldn't afford it. I could not have afforded to do that. Let's see. We proceeded to file it in district court in Anderson, South Carolina, and that was heard on its merit and the federal district judge ruled that Clemson was not guilty. So we took it to the court of appeals in less than three or four weeks, trying it in January of 1963 [unknown]. And the court of appeals said, "yes, you did discriminate. You've got to admit him." Then the State of South Carolina took it to the Supreme Court and they refused to hear it and that ended the case. What was remarkable about the whole thing was that it was like a charade; I mean, the state was going through the motions that had to be gone through in order to satisfy the people of South Carolina, or at least a portion of the people of South Carolina, that they had exhausted every legal remedy available to them before they let the gates open that would never be closed again.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Tell me about the basketball bounced on the floor above your room.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I think too much has been made of that. I don't recall any … Somebody developed that story and they've attributed it to me that people were rude and they bounced basketballs all night long and I never could go to sleep. That's

Page 23
really not true. I don't know where that came from. During the entire time that I was at Clemson, I had about three epithets hurled at me, and they were all done by someone who was on the fourth floor of some dorm, it was a Friday afternoon, he was probably drunk as hell, and he'd say something like "nigger this" and hide. I used to tell people maybe it was my size that kept people from coming up to me and doing some of the things that I'd heard had happened to other pioneers in situations like that, like being spat upon, being physically abused in some kind of way. That really just never happened. I've seen stories that attributed the basketball bouncing, I've heard Clemson students say that that occurred. Those were concrete floors and you would have to bounce a basketball pretty hard for me to have heard it. I made a habit of not sitting in front of an open window, little precautions I took to avoid the fate of some crazy person with a shotgun who might want to do something. But generally, I felt quite able to move about the campus quite freely. They had some guards who were rather unobtrusive and there was once that we played a game with a kid that I got to know in the architecture school. We were coming from class one day and we were fooling around, we lived in the same dorm, and we faked a fight, you know, we were just trying to see how much of the security that was still there. They came out of the woodwork. But other than that…
LYNN HAESSLY:
Were you isolated in your dormitory?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
No, we had people in our hall. The way the design of the hall was made up, there was a solid wall on one side,

Page 24
there were no rooms on the other side, there were rooms only on one side. They tended to put more mature students in that dorm. I did not have a roommate, by my own request. I didn't want to have a roommate my last year.
LYNN HAESSLY:
You met your wife, Lucinda Brawley, at Clemson. Was that relationship of being the first black student …
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I didn't intend to marry her then. I'm sorry what was your question?
LYNN HAESSLY:
I just wanted to ask you what that was like and if that's what drew you together.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Yes, somebody said, "boy, you guys got caught in an environment where you were made for her and she was made for you and there was nobody else anyway so you might as well get married." It could have been like that. I met her prior to her coming to Clemson. I became a very famous person all of a sudden in the period leading up to that and so I went to speak to a lot of high schools and got to meet her and heard that she was interested in being a student at Clemson and she was a very smart girl. So I finished talking to her class and then we talked. She was pretty and I thought it was nice. She matriculated at Clemson the very next semester. She got in.
LYNN HAESSLY:
With no question of her application?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
With no fanfare, no questions about her application. She was more than well qualified for it and she was a math student. At first I had no idea of ever really dating her, you know, in the sense of carrying her out for a date.
There were people who were quite concerned about my dating habits as to

Page 25
whether I would end up seeking to date one of the white girls on campus. That gave the president and some others a great deal of concern in that first semester with no one else there before Cindy came. There was a big dance, Brook Benton, a pop singer, was going to be there. I decided I wanted to go and a few people in the administration wanted me not to go because they thought that people would be drunk at the dance portion of the thing and I'm standing around, I might get some lonely young lady who would ask me for a dance and I would be crazy enough to dance with her. That might create a problem. Think about that.
LYNN HAESSLY:
So did you go?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Yes, I went.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did you dance?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Yes, I danced.
LYNN HAESSLY:
With white girls?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Yes.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Any problems?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
No. Nobody did anything. That's the way I felt, anyway, that they wouldn't. I just thought that the administration was a little bit too cautious. At any rate, that's the only sign that people were concerned about what my social life might be like. One of the big fears of that period was the fear of the mixing of the races; the fear of interracial dating was always in the back of the minds of the dyed-in-wool segregationists. They saw that as the end of whatever. Then Cindy comes along and I just primarily treated her as a sister for maybe six months. I mean I would just take her and we'd go

Page 26
to dinner together, we'd occasionally go out on a date together. I'd introduce her around to the black community which was very nearby and it turned into other things.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Did you feel that the attitudes towards racial mixing had to affect the way you came to college? Did you feel like you needed to be extra careful because of it?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
No. I didn't believe in that attitude and I guess I was developing fast as being a person who would, if I didn't believe it I could take it all away. I couldn't support doing something that was not a part of my belief system. What I'm saying is that if I met a person and I liked that person I thought I had the right to talk to that person and be whatever I wanted within the bounds of decorum and everything else, with the values of our society. But someone simply say that because I'm black I can't talk to someone white insults me in terms of who I am. So you can't confine me that way and I refuse to be confined that way. So, I admired some very attractive girls that were on campus but I've never been aggressive in the sense of pursuing them and I didn't in that case. I think most of my concentration probably was on my studies and my social life was somewhat limited.
LYNN HAESSLY:
How would you characterize your education at Clemson? I mean the quality of your professional training.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Very good. Much better than average. I'm not saying that individually I got better or special treatment, I just think that the program in the School of Architecture was a very, very good one, and it still is. I'm still hiring students

Page 27
from that program. I think they are the best architectural school in three states, but Georgia Tech and N. C. State are having problems.
LYNN HAESSLY:
In 1965 when you graduated from Clemson, did you consider going to Charleston or did you, when I looked at your background thinking of the social atmosphere in Charleston and Charlotte as a New South city, were those the kinds of things that you were balancing when you picked Charlotte?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Probably not very consciously but I admit the reason I didn't stay in South Carolina was that nobody offered me a job. It was about as simple as that. Not that people wouldn't have offered me a job, I was graduating third in my class in architecture, and usually the first three or four or five students are the ones that are gobbled up. It didn't take me long to figure out I wasn't getting the offers from South Carolina, I was getting them from North Carolina and Georgia, Atlanta specifically. I came to Charlotte because I got the best offer. I had never heard of the place; I mean, I'd heard of it, I'd been here once during a civil rights rally or something back when I was in college, and I guess it was prior to me going to Clemson. Other than that, I knew nothing about Charlotte. Beyond the North Carolina colleges that I grew up being familiar with—A. & T. and Central—we didn't pay much attention to North Carolina.
But the first time I saw Charlotte I fell in love with it.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Why?

Page 28
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, it just seemed perfect in terms of size. It just had an air about it that said, "hey, here is a place that's growing. You might be able to grow with it." Besides I got the best job offer, as I said. Atlanta was too big, kind of overwhelming. I was newly married. I thought that we could do better in Charlotte. God, I'm glad I made that decision! [laughter]
LYNN HAESSLY:
When you'd been talking about your involvement in civil rights, it seems like you're very much of the generation of Jesse Jackson, younger than King, that group that came up with the expectations of Brown, but older than Rap Brown and Stokely [Carmichael] who moved on to black power. Do you think that is kind of an accurate assessment of where you might fall?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, we're in the group now that are becoming the mayors. We did the demonstration things, too, believe me, in the King philosophy. We saw what happened to the black power movement and probably never thought it was reasonable. Many of the people who led those movements, Stokely and Rap and others came from the North, really, they were not Southerners. We Southerners growing up under the shadow of King really did see change occur, dramatic change, and so there was a certain believability about pushing direct action and then ultimately evolving that into politics that made some sense to us. Jesse really is still a civil rights activist, he and I really have taken two slightly different roads. I'm more a believer in taking the benefits that were brought about by Martin and Jesse and all the other direct action kinds of things and molding them

Page 29
into long-term, institutional changes that would occur, systemic changes that have occurred in our society. I read about the Observer's report yesterday on the increasing amount of blacks that are registering. That is significant to me and its been significant enough in this community that I've been elected to public office and it's been in no small part due to the increased amount of participation by black voters in the electoral process. We see that now as the vehicle for change: to assume and to aim higher in local and state and other places to bring about, carry on that revolution that started back there when the Supreme Court made that decision. And so for us, it was the civil rights movement had its purpose; black power, those people were slightly younger than we are (well, I guess, we're really about the same age) that was an offshoot of the student non-violent coordinating committee, the shock troops of the civil rights movement that got disillusioned with the lack of more rapid progress, the falling away and the more tension beginning with the Vietnam war that got into totally different things. Again, you know, you've got to remember folks that came from the South, many of us were very much attuned to the changes that we saw occurring that were in our eyesight dramatic and many of us came from those middle-class type environments that said, you know, the way to do things is not to destroy them but to try to negotiate power.
LYNN HAESSLY:
I've read that many white voters who vote for Jesse Helms also vote for you.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
That's remarkable, isn't it?
LYNN HAESSLY:
I'd just like to know what your assessment of that is.

Page 30
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Where did you read that? [laughter] Well, it is true, well at least we track that in our own political campaigns. I think people really do believe, or think they want people who will serve them in public office who will tell them like it is. They think Jesse Helms tells it like it is. Jesse Helms stands for a lot of things that in my opinion are anathema to what's good for North Carolina. But people find a believability in Jesse. He understands them. What I've noticed in Charlotte is that people believe me, they don't agree always with me. But when I say it they believe it, they don't believe I'm putting them on. And they don't believe that I say things simply for political effect, having no meaning or substance to it. And I suspect that there is a degree of comfort in the average citizen to know that even though I don't agree with the guy, I know he's honest. I hear them saying that about Jesse, too. He didn't like Martin Luther King and he didn't try to tell you he did. They like that. It gave them some comfort, they have to agree with him on that, some of them. But for them they are uncomfortable with the politician.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
LYNN HAESSLY:
Can you tell me about your involvement with Soul City?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
When I left graduate school, I left Boston and came south, I accepted a joint appointment, one which took me to Chapel Hill to do a visiting lectureship in the planning school. And I would spend three days a week working with Floyd McKissick

Page 31
in Warren County on something called the Warren Regional Planning Corporation, which was an organization that had gotten a 701 planning grant to study a new town in that area. It was all an effort on the part of Republicans to provide a way to enhance economic development and the Democrats for that matter, Governor Robert Scott, I think, was governor of North Carolina at the time.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What year was that?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
'70. Anyway, this grant was there, and I went down to work as a senior planner on a project. I was already a registered architect, now with a new master's degree. I helped to assemble a group of eight or nine people who were economists, housers, people who worked in housing, land planners, and designs of that nature. And I served one year as a senior planner and then as a director of planning for what we called the overall base maps for how to use something like two thousand acres of land. So I got to work with Floyd for two years. It was very exciting to work on this idea of a new town being grown literally out of the tobacco fields of North Carolina's eastern corridor where there was a great deal of poverty. Floyd's idea of a new town where you built an economic base as an alternative to the welfare state, appealed to me. It was a very Republican idea but it was a very appealing one to a fledgling planner who was looking for experimentation in an area that architects and planners could find fascinating. It also was occurring at a time when there was a great deal of emphasis being placed by the Nixon administration on new towns. And Soul City ultimately ended up

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being one of twenty new towns that got started, all of which were fraught with massive problems; i.e., concepts of how you put them together financially. But I stayed there from 1970, June, through October of 1971. I did the visiting lectureship for three semesters in Chapel Hill.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Why do you think Soul City failed?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
For what I just said earlier.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Jesse Helms had a certain amount to do with that.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, no. Jesse Helms was more extraneous to it, you know. He would like to have you believe that he did but I don't agree with that. I think that had Soul City been rolling along, selling land at a pace that could ultimately pay the interest or service the debt for the funds granted by the federal government, Jesse Helms or no one else could have touched it because it would have been a successful experiment working itself out. But it didn't do that, as did most of the other new towns that had a better chance, I think, than Soul City. Soul City was built about fifty miles from any large town, and it was the only new town that was going to be holding on, so to speak. The others were parasites to larger metropolitan areas and were just better planned housing communities, in my opinion.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Something located like Research Triangle? That's not a new town, but having a better location.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, Research Triangle still is parasitic, in my opinion. It's basis for being is the universities that exist in other towns. Most of the other new towns were the same way. I mean, if you built one outside of Minneapolis you could enjoy

Page 33
being on the Minneapolis housing market. And you are just simply doing a better job of subdivision planning because you are going to put a little more mixed use in it. Soul City was an experiment to try in the middle of nowhere to grow an economic base, which meant that you really have to start with selling the land off to industrial locations, and build plants and jobs—create the market, which Floyd McKissick didn't do. He wasn't willing to wait that time. He started off with a small subdivision which was about all they ultimately got built, just one subdivision and then some other out-buildings, one of which my architecture firm designed for them. But, the town failed because they couldn't sell the land, they couldn't make that concept go. And when they couldn't sell, it didn't take long for political enemies to think that Floyd had just wasted federal dollars. The good that it did do, though, was that it provided Henderson and Oxford with a water source. It got some more sophisticated water sewer systems into that area and I think the area is ripe now for further industrial development. This is precisely the kind of thing they wanted to accomplish. They can do it. Maybe not through a private company, but maybe if there is an aggressiveness on the part of the Warren County board of county commissioners and some industrial development people they can probably still pull that off, primarily with more industry. I always thought you had to have a lot of industry.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Let's turn to Charlotte politics. It was not that long after you ended your involvement with Soul City that you got your first appointment to a council seat here.

Page 34
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Well, it was three years. I mean, I got that appointment that December of 1974 to fulfill a term. I didn't come here with the intentions of going into elected politics. But I did come here and got very much involved in architectural type activities with the AIA, American Institute of Architects, and got involved in a task force study of the planning and development going on here in Charlotte that got a lot of attention in '74. I think that ultimately gave me the visibility that you wouldn't normally get because of what we said in that planning study. A lot of what we said then we have started to take up over the twelve years I've been involved in local politics, which is much more [unknown] now than we have had in the past. A greater degree of relationship between land use and transportation which is important to a city. So, in that period from leaving Soul City to coming to Charlotte by way of involvement in civic activities with the AIA, we got a little bit of attention and ultimately got appointed to fulfill an unexpired term. When I served that one time I liked it so much I decided to run again.
LYNN HAESSLY:
I've talked to reporters who covered you and they say that you really enjoy the political process, that being out and meeting people and all those kinds of things. I would find it very gruelling and I'd just like to ask you why you enjoy it.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I love people. I love this city. I like what I'm doing. I think I'm very comfortable with myself first, so you start there and then the second thing is that I've always been one who sort of enjoyed working with people. My mother tells a

Page 35
joke about as a boy growing up and wanted to keep all the little boys in my yard playing marbles. I would always be inventing things to do to keep them interested. She said a little bit manipulative maybe, too, to the extent that I would open up the refrigerator and whatever was in there my playmates would have their choice. Apples, for example. She buys a dozen and I take the apples out and there was somebody who looked like they were getting a little impatient, I'd offer apples to the crowd. Well, people see that as an effort always to try to work with people and to be with them and I don't like being alone. I like being around people. Yet, in many ways I am alone in this office. I mean, being the mayor, but I just enjoy working with folks.
LYNN HAESSLY:
When you said that you were infatuated with politics, there is certainly more to politics than involvement with people. What else have you been infatuated with?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Power. To get things done, I mean. You know, mayors in North Carolina are not strong mayors as they are in other states. But Charlotte comes closest to being the strongest mayor that you have with veto power and the ability to appoint people, the ability to set the agenda for what the city ought to be thinking about or doing. It is definitely in the mayor's office and it has been dictated in the years past by other mayors. But it's the ability to get things to happen for the good. I think I've seen a different kind of world since being an eleven-year-old boy. That big decision on segregation being unconstitution. There is a different possibility for the South and for North Carolina and South Carolina and other places. And

Page 36
I think in my own mind I see that unfolding every day. And the ability to help that unfold, to see a state where education is a top priority and people are literate, trained using the best of all of our resources, whether they are black or white, is important to me. If I get an opportunity to get that to happen just a little bit quicker by being mayor of Charlotte, it's important to move us along.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What would you say is you biggest accomplishment as mayor?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
People working together. There is a lot more communication in this town than in a lot of other places. When I hear about other communities having race relation problems, Charlotte certainly hasn't reached the millenium in terms of that either but there is a fairly good network going on in this community. I can pick the phone up right now and talk to the Greek community, the Jewish community, the black community, and so forth and so on. And we can have everybody in this office inside a couple of hours to resolve a problem. That's very important. It's just as important as getting the community to attract new industry, build the next highrise, build the next park. When you've got the people sort of working together you can get them to put away their thing for our thing, that is the city. That to me is a big accomplishment. I see a lot of that happening. We passed a lot of bond issues, big ones, since I've been mayor and they've all overwhelmingly passed because we could get a diverse group of people who might have been disparate on

Page 37
that issue but once we get them in here and start talking and we get them to go with us, the city.
LYNN HAESSLY:
That style sounds very different from that of your predecessor, Eddie Knox, who I've heard characterized as an arm twister.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I don't twist arms very well, but I try persuade you in other ways.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Where would you like to be more effective?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Where? I want to be very effective doing this job.
LYNN HAESSLY:
I meant in what kind of areas would you like to be more effective as mayor.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I want to have more influence on young people. I want them to grow faster, maybe, and that's not realistic. But I do spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not a forty-three-year-old mayor has any influence on a sixteen-year-old high school kid about what direction he ought to go in. I think I see things about what's going on, what's going to happen in the nation that I'm not sure he's seeing. And I worry a little bit about it. Maybe it's because I'm a father of four children, and I've got two teenage daughters and one who's in college. I wish I could be more effective there. As far as the actual machinations of this government in terms of what we're doing, I'm comfortable. I think the people who need to hear what my thinking is and the people I need to work with, the city council, the manager, we enjoy a very positive up-beat relationship. I think I couldn't ask anything better. But it is how the constituency is hearing me. And I believe that the older

Page 38
constituents are hearing them and the election was as good an example of that as anything that someone who publishes has talked about. They heard it. But I'm always sure younger people hear.
LYNN HAESSLY:
One question on political ambition and possibilities. In looking for a 1986 U.S. Senate candidate for the Democrats, your name is not one name that I've heard mentioned and you seem to me that you would be a politically ambitious man, but it seems that some possibilities are limited. What are your thoughts about that?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I didn't get the last part of the question. Some possibilities of it?
LYNN HAESSLY:
Some possibility at this time might be warranted.
HARVEY B. GANTT:
I'm not running for the Senate in 1986 and I don't think you would hear my name. First of all, you've heard too many names from Charlotte already. So, you wouldn't likely hear me interested in it. I was busy running in the campaign telling people of this community that I wanted to be their mayor for the next two years when everybody else was [unknown] should I do the Senate thing so it would have been inconsistent for me to be interested in the mayor's job and also interested in running for the U.S. Senate seat. One day maybe I'll want to do that. I don't want to do that now. I'm kind of one-track. I want to do this and do it well. And if the spirit of the Lord tells me that I need to be looking somewhere else maybe I'll look somewhere else. But there are a lot of other good people out there. I'm an ambitious person but I don't believe in serving in a public office with the sole purpose of stepping up to the next office.

Page 39
It happened from being appointed to running for the election, I felt the need to serve as councilman. When the position came open with Eddie Knox announcing his candidacy as mayor in 1979 I thought that I was better qualified than he was, having served and he hadn't. That was my rationale for doing what I did at that point. People now automatically say, "well, you know, where do you go in Charlotte politics after you've been mayor? You can't do anything else here, you got to go to another level. You've got to go to Raleigh or you've got to go to Washington. I don't think you have to go anywhere. You can do a job here and quit, rest, relax, re-create yourself, and then see if there is something that you really want to do. And since there is nothing I really want to do then
LYNN HAESSLY:
Well?
HARVEY B. GANTT:
Got it?
LYNN HAESSLY:
Yes, thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW