Located at 551 S. Tryon Street, the Harvey B. Gantt for African-American Arts+Culture is a 46,500 square foot structure that is a repository of Black culture, significantly of Charlotte, North Carolina. Opening in October 2009, it is contemporary in design and enveloped in glass windows, metals and brick. The inspiration for the design of this $18.6 million, four-story center was the Myers Street School.
This school was formerly located in the Brooklyn neighborhood area, a community populated by African-Americans that was eradicated in the 1960s due to the urban renewal of Charlotte. From 1886 to 1907, Myers Street School was the only public school that African-Americans could attend.
Issues of racial segregation and discrimination, especially in public accommodations, plagued the nation until the 1960s. It was during this period that student protest movements exploded on university campuses throughout America. North Carolina was not exempt, as protests, such as sit-ins, occurred throughout the state, including in Charlotte. At the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a demand for the inclusion of African-American culture to be incorporated into the academic environment was met, leading, ultimately, to the creation of the Afro-American Cultural and Service Center.
The Afro-American Cultural and Service Center was preceded by UNCC’s initial creation of the university’s Black Studies Center. The Black Studies Center, developed to meet the demands and needs of the students, was directed by Dr. Bertha Maxwell Roddey. An associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Maxwell was a strong advocate of active student involvement within the community. Mary Harper, an assistant professor of English, added another critical facet of preservation of Charlotte’s African-American legacy to the Black Studies Center. Maxwell and Harper began to work together and, in 1974 and 1975, successfully held a Black cultural festival in Marshall Park, the former site of the Brooklyn neighborhood.
The Black Studies program at UNCC would become the foundation for the creation and outreach of the National Council on Black Studies, a student-led, not-for-profit organization that is centered upon the advancement of African and African-American Studies. The Afro-American Cultural and Service Center, co-founded by Maxwell Roddey and Harper, was designed to preserve and promote Black culture of the United States and specifically, Charlotte. This center was actively supported by the university president, Bonnie E. Cone. The collaboration between the Center and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte would be a strong relationship that presently continues.