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Remembering the Days — USC during Reconstruction

Remembering the Days — episode 77

USC's modern desegregation took place in 1963 when three African American students enrolled at the historically white university — but they actually weren't the first black students in the university's history. For a brief window in the 1870s, USC became the only state-supported public university in the South to open its doors to white and black students alike.


Henry Hayne was a tailor of fine clothing, a soldier who served in the U.S. Army during wartime, a South Carolina politician and a statesman. At age 33, Hayne enrolled in medical school and forever altered the history of the University of South Carolina.

But before he was 40 years old, Hayne suddenly left the state of South Carolina and nearly vanished from the public record.

I’m Chris Horn, your host for Remembering the Days, and today we’re looking back 150 years to the era of Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War. It was a time when our country was literally trying to reconstruct itself after that bitter conflict. And in South Carolina in the midst of that Reconstruction, a radical experiment unfolded in higher education.

The state’s constitution was rewritten in 1868, expanding rights and privileges to all citizens, regardless of race. The new constitution allowed Black men for the first time to enroll at what had been the all-white South Carolina College — rechartered and renamed as the University of South Carolina. Carolina was the only state-supported Southern university to desegregate during Reconstruction, and Henry Hayne was the first Black man to enroll in October 1873.

Henry Hayne marker at the USC horseshoe

A historical marker commemorating Henry Hayne and others during USC's Reconstruction era was unveiled on campus in October 2023.

Betsy Newman: “Henry Hayne was part of a cohort of people who saw the potential of Reconstruction, saw the importance of education for African Americans. And he took a very bold step by being the first African American to enroll in the college. And it was shocking to a lot of people. It was nationally recognized. I think The New York Times did a story on it.”

That’s Betsy Newman, a filmmaker and producer at South Carolina Educational Television. Newman has produced a documentary about Henry Hayne, who, after the Civil War, became active in politics in South Carolina. He first served as a state senator, representing Marion County, then was elected South Carolina’s Secretary of State. It was early in his term as secretary that he enrolled in USC’s medical school, an act that led many white students and professors to walk out in protest. By 1875, the majority of the student body was Black.

Christian Anderson: “The students who were opposed to it left. The students who were against this left, and the ones who stayed and the ones who joined were either indifferent or in favor of it being a biracial or multiracial campus.”

That’s Christian Anderson, a USC education professor who teaches courses on the history of higher education, including a course on the history of USC. Anderson says history books often refer to USC during Reconstruction as ‘the radical university,’ a term that carries positive and negative connotations.

Christian Anderson: “It was radical in the best sense of the word. It was a radical new idea. And the reason that that it gets used as a pejorative is because those who were against it could use that as a way to identify it as other.”

“They are saying it was not the University of South Carolina. It was under radical control. It was under outsider control. It was occupied almost the same way that they would identify the the Union troops, the federal troops, as being in Columbia, occupying the city and controlling the city.”

Besides Henry Hayne, there were many more Black men to enroll at Carolina during Reconstruction. In episode 19 of Remembering the Days, we talked about Richard T. Greener, the university’s first Black professor and librarian, who also earned a law degree from Carolina.

Other Black alumni from that era include T. McCants Stewart, who went on to become a newspaper man and lawyer and later served on the supreme court in Liberia, and William D. Crum, who became a physician and government-appointed collector for the port of Charleston.

William Sinclair was another notable alumnus who, in 1905, wrote The Aftermath of Slavery, an important treatise on the plight of post-Civil War Southern Blacks. In 1909, Sinclair helped found the NAACP.

Alonzo Townsend was also among the cohort of Black students who graduated from USC in the 1870s. Townsend became a Methodist minister and college teacher.

Some 60 years later, the university’s alumni association would put out a call to identify USC’s oldest living alumnus. At age 83, Townsend offered himself as that person, and, as the oldest alumnus, he was to receive a walking cane from the university — but the alumni association balked when they discovered he was Black. The secretary of the association claimed that the university had repudiated diplomas issued during Reconstruction due to its integration. Townsend’s snub generated national attention; he passed away four months later.

USC’s Reconstruction era lasted a little less than four years. Henry Hayne, the first Black student to enroll, had not quite completed his medical degree when the Reconstruction era ended. South Carolina’s state Legislature returned to being an all-white body, and those politicians closed USC in 1877, reopening it in 1880 as, once again, an all-white institution. In the first six decades of the 20th century, descendants of some of those Reconstruction-era students would apply for and be denied admission to USC. It wasn’t until 1963, 90 years after its first desegregation, that the university would admit Black students again.

Henry Hayne fled the state when the end of Reconstruction in 1877 ushered in a season of political violence across the South. Hayne settled in Cook County, Illinois, and died there in 1898 though almost nothing is known about the last 20 years of his life.

For many, the end of Reconstruction — and the closing of the briefly integrated University of South Carolina — prompts speculation today about what might have been.

Christian Anderson: “What if it hadn't closed in 1877? What if it had been able to continue on? What if Richard T, Greener, instead of having to retreat back to Washington, D.C. and find new employment, had been able to continue all of the great things he was doing here? What if all these students who had been kicked out had been able to continue their studies? And, you know, we have some amazing stories of those who did graduate, but there were lots of students who were in the middle, in their first, second, third year of studying and were not able to finish. What if they had been able to finish? What could they have accomplished? What would the university have looked like in another five, 10 or 20 years? And what if it had been at the forefront of this trend for the whole South and for the whole country? It's a tremendous what if.”

At USC, October 7, 2023 was proclaimed Henry Hayne Day, marking the 150th anniversary of his enrollment. The university has ongoing events this year and moving forward to mark the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction and its place in USC’s history.

That’s all for today’s episode. On the next Remembering the Days, we’re going back to the beginning of South Carolina College when the University motto was penned and the official university seal was created. You might want to brush up on your Latin as well as Roman mythology. Until then, I’m Chris Horn. Thanks for listening and forever to thee.