Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Member

Rod Andrew

Committee Member

Alan Grubb

Committee Member

Abel Bartley


Although Clemson University’s first African-American student, Harvey Gantt,

was admitted in 1963, the first African-American athlete did not sign with Clemson until

1969. This thesis assesses the years leading up to athletic desegregation at Clemson

University, and explores the alleged barriers to the successful recruitment of African-

American athletes at Clemson. While there were legitimate obstacles to signing African-

American athletes, such as the academic standards of the Atlantic Coast Conference and

the personal preference of African-Americans choosing to go elsewhere, I argue that

these barriers alone were insufficient to preclude the signing of an African-American

athlete. Despite the open opposition to the desegregation of Clemson University in 1962

and 1963, by 1968 the Clemson students, administrators, and alumni largely supported

the recruitment of African-American athletes. This thesis utilizes the conceptual lens of

“deep play”, a concept described by anthropologist Clifford Geertz, to demonstrate how

the commitment to gaining a competitive advantage in sports trumped the societal and

political views of those who transitioned from overt resistance to Gantt to the definite

endorsement of recruiting African-American athletes. Despite the popularity of athletics

among the Clemson community, the historiography of Clemson athletics and

desegregation is minimal, and my research is intended to create a foundation for future

research into Clemson’s own history of desegregation and integration within their athletic




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