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The Patriot: Robert McPherson ‘Mac’ Burdette ’72, M ’74, M ’77

Mac Burdette

Mac Burdette at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant

As the executive director of Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Burdette is motivated by his passions for history and the military.

PATRIOTS POINT Naval and Maritime Museum is home to the USS Yorktown, known affectionately as the Fighting Lady. The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, decommissioned in 1970, earned 11 battle stars in the Pacific offensive of World War II and five more in the Vietnam War.

In 1968, the Yorktown recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts and their capsule in waters south of Hawaii. Now, moored in Charleston Harbor, the ship falls under the watch of Robert McPherson “Mac” Burdette.

“It’s almost a feeling of destiny,” Burdette says. “This is where I was supposed to end up because I do have a passion for [the military]. Frankly, everybody who works here does. No doubt Clemson prepared me for what I do today.”

Burdette was a history major at Clemson when his studies were disrupted by the Vietnam War. He enlisted: “The wisest thing to do was enlist because you assumed you were going to be drafted. Enlisting meant getting a commission, and that was the smartest move.”

After serving in active duty as a second lieutenant in the Army, Burdette entered the Army Reserve, where he achieved the rank of colonel after 30 years of service, including a year in the Persian Gulf War.

Outside of the Army Reserve, Burdette spent much of his career as the city manager for Mount Pleasant, helping it grow and develop for almost three decades. In 2010, he was considering retirement when the executive director opportunity at Patriots Point came into view. Burdette couldn’t resist.

Along with the USS Yorktown, Patriots Point hosts the USS Laffey, a destroyer, and the USS Clamagore, a submarine, as well as a Vietnam War exhibit and a Medal of Honor museum. Each year, the museum sees more than 300,000 visitors and hosts 24,000 overnight campers. The site also has an economic impact of more than $29 million on the area, according to a 2014 College of Charleston study.

Burdette’s goal for the museum is to help younger generations of Americans understand the sacrifice and courage of veterans. “I like to think we’re a lot more than a museum,” he says. “It’s more about gaining perspective on what war is all about. As difficult as it is, there are times when men and women are called to preserve the values we hold dear as Americans.”

New signs installed as part of board’s history of Clemson plan

Clemson has taken another significant step in sharing its complete history with the installation of new signs at the 11 historic buildings on the main campus and enhanced markers at Gantt Circle. The signs are the latest example of the work being done as a result of recommendations developed in early 2016 by a history task force commissioned by the University’s board of trustees.

Also being installed are granite markers to enhance the campus commemoration of the historic enrollment of Harvey B. Gantt ’65, the first African-American to enroll at Clemson. The signage will complement an existing historic marker and recognize action by the board of trustees to officially name the circular drive in front of Tillman Hall “Gantt Circle.” Gantt’s registration took place inside Tillman Hall.

Landmarks & Legends: Marking History

Landmarks Legends-Sign InstallationThree new historical markers at Clemson are tangible reminders of the University’s full history — a history not as idyllic as the well-manicured lawn of Bowman field and the picture-perfect walk by the library.

In April, University officials, trustees and guests broke ground for three double-sided markers: One at the intersection of South Palmetto Boulevard and Fernow Street Extension to commemorate a site where slave quarters stood on the plantation owned by John C. Calhoun and later by University founder Thomas Green Clemson; the second near Calhoun Bottoms farmland to commemorate the role of Native Americans and African-Americans in the development of the Fort Hill Plantation lands; the third near Woodland Cemetery to mark the burial sites of the family of John C. Calhoun, enslaved people and state-leased prisoners who died during their confinement at Clemson.

“The story of Clemson University’s founding is one of great vision, commitment and perseverance,” said President James P. Clements at the event. “However, it is also a story with some uncomfortable history. And, although we cannot change our history, we can acknowledge it and learn from it, and that is what great universities do.”

Landmarks - Fort Hill property wp2The markers are one way Clemson is working to give a more accurate public accounting of its history to acknowledge connections to slavery, segregation or other practices and viewpoints inconsistent with current institutional values.

During the event, Clements praised the work of Rhondda Thomas, associate professor of English, whose research on African-Americans who lived and labored at Clemson prior to desegregation spurred interest in the markers.

One of those stories is about Sharper and Caroline Brown, whose daughter Matilda was born into slavery but lived most of her life as a free woman. Matilda Brown’s granddaughter, Eva Hester Martin, 90, of Greenville, was a guest at the groundbreaking ceremony for the historical markers.

It’s a story Thomas pieced together from personal recollections backed up by photos, newspaper clippings, church and census records, and other documentation. The youngest of 10 children, Martin earned a degree in chemistry from S.C. State University, enjoyed a successful career as a medical technician in Chicago and Los Angeles, and raised four children.

“Our archives are a wonderful resource, and census records are a great help,” Thomas said. “For the convict laborers, however, the pardon records provide the strongest evidence of the men and boys who labored at Clemson, as the documentation specifies when they were released from Clemson College. But in some cases the records are incomplete or missing.”

Thomas hopes the University’s efforts to tell these stories will encourage more family members to come forward with information, photos, family Bibles or other materials that can confirm an ancestor’s connection to the University’s early years.

If you have information for Thomas’ research, email her at rhonddt@clemson.edu.

Clements_019Read more about the history of these markers in The View From Sikes.

 

The Clemson Medallion

In October, trustee Ellison Smyth McKissick III of Greenville and retired professor Jerome V. Reel Jr. of Clemson were awarded the Thomas Green Clemson Medallion, the University’s highest public honor. The medallion is awarded to those members of the Clemson Family whose dedication and service embody the spirit of the University’s founder.

“These two gentlemen each have devoted decades of their lives to Clemson and its faculty, staff and students,” said President James P. Clements. “Clemson would not be the university it is today without their hard work and leadership. It is a great honor to recognize them for their dedication, exceptional example and continuing impact.”

SMYTH McKISSICK ’79

McKissick

Smyth McKissick’s father was a great believer in an honest day’s work and admired hard-working people. The younger McKissick learned this lesson well and began work at age 16 in the spinning room of his family’s textile company, Alice Manufacturing.

McKissick entered Clemson in 1975 to study business, then went on to the University of South Carolina for an MBA in 1981. He characterizes his time at Clemson as a life-changing experience, and says he “grew up” in Sirrine Hall. He then returned home and to Alice Manufacturing, where he had the pleasure of learning and working alongside his father.

Soon after his father’s death in 1998, he took the reins as president and CEO, knowing the company needed to transform its business model to survive the many changes in the U.S. textile industry. He credits the success of his family’s business and its re-creation to the dedicated people within the company.

The McKissick philosophy of hard work is evident in his involvement and investment in Clemson. A successor member of the Board of Trustees since 1998, he has chaired or served on almost every board committee, including the search committees for Clemson’s 14th president, James F. Barker, and 15th president, James P. Clements.

An IPTAY member, McKissick supported the WestZone initiative; served as Clemson University Foundation director; is a member of the Thomas Green Clemson Cumulative Giving Society; and is a charter member of the President’s Leadership Circle. McKissick chairs the University’s $1 billion Will to Lead for Clemson campaign, the largest fundraising initiative in Clemson’s history. In 2012, he received the Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award.

McKissick has served as a leader in numerous textile industry organizations and is an active member of Christ Church Episcopal. He and his wife, Martha, live in Greenville and have three children, Smyth, Holly ’13 and Caroline.

JEROME V. REEL JR. H ’00

Reel

Clemson University historian since 2002, Jerry Reel has quite a history with the University. His career at Clemson went from potentially short-lived to honored professor and academic leader for 50 years.

The New Orleans native began putting down his roots in Clemson in 1963, when he joined the faculty while still finishing up his Ph.D. in British medieval history at Emory University. His plan was to stay long enough to finish his research, but he never left.

Reel began as an instructor, advanced to assistant and associate professor, and was named professor of history in 1971. He worked with student groups including Tiger Brotherhood, Blue Key, Golden Key, Omicron Delta Kappa and Order of Omega. He served as adviser to Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity for more than 25 years.

Reel served as dean of undergraduate studies, vice provost and dean of undergraduate studies, and senior vice provost. He was named professor emeritus in 2003 and was honored with the Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 2011.

For decades, students filled his “History 101 ­— History of Clemson” course in which he indoctrinated generations with stories of the families who founded the University and the leaders who presided over it. Reel is the author and co-author of several books on Clemson history.

Reel is a member of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, and past president of the National Opera Association and the national Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. He is active in Fort Hill Presbyterian Church, serving as an elder.

Students nominated Reel as an Alumni Master Teacher in 1975. Friends and former students honored him in 2009 with the establishment of the Jerome V. Reel Jr. Endowed Scholarship. Reel has direct Tiger “orange bloodlines” throughout his family. His wife, Edmeé, holds a master’s degree, and all three of his children and their spouses are alumni. One grandson is a current student.

Meng honored by Notre Dame for recent book

Shattered Spaces

Shattered Spaces

The University of Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies has awarded Michael Meng, assistant professor of history, the 2013 Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies for his book, Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Germany and Poland, published by Harvard University Press (2011). The $10,000 prize is presented annually to the author of the best book in European studies that transcends a focus on any one country, state or people.

Doing the Right Thing

As children with siblings, many of us were admonished by our parents to “do the right thing” and “set a good example.” For most of us, following that advice didn’t mean choosing to make groundbreaking decisions. But, for Harvey Gantt, those words were prophetic and resulted in decisions that would change Clemson University and South Carolina.

On January 28, 1963, Harvey B. Gantt took a step onto Clemson’s campus that would stake his claim in history. But as a quiet young man who only wanted a great education at a great institution, Gantt’s battle to gain admission to Clemson during state-mandated segregation was a step of courage and commitment. It was one step in a lifetime of steps that would set a good example and provide inspiration for generations to come, even for a future president of the United States.

An early inspiration

In 1990, Gantt was in a tight race for a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina. In Cambridge, Mass., 850 miles to the north, Harvard law students gathered for an election watch. One of those students, 29-year-old Barack Obama, proudly donned a T-shirt in support of Gantt. Gantt, a successful architect and two-term mayor of Charlotte, was the city’s first African-American in that leadership role. And although Gantt lost his Senate race, he provided an inspirational example for the students who would follow him, including Obama, who would become the 44th president of the United States. Today, Gantt takes pleasure in displaying the signed photo of Pres. Obama, inscribed with the message, “To Harvey, an early inspiration,” and signed, “Barack Obama.”

This past fall, Gantt returned to Clemson to give the keynote address at Convocation to mark the beginning of the University’s 50th anniversary of integration. Gantt talked with pride about the accomplishments of his classmates and how the members of the Class of 1965 had made a positive impact on their world. He challenged faculty and students to do the same. But he also talked about the importance of the relationships they would forge at Clemson. These are just a few stories of African-American students who followed in his footsteps in the decades since Gantt stepped on campus.

The lessons of diversity

By the time Frank L. Matthews ’71 came to Clemson in 1968 from a two-year branch campus in Sumter, there were approximately 35 African-American students on campus. In looking for ways to bond, this small community formed the Student League for Black Identity to enhance their college experience, support each other and respond to other needs. “There were no black role models on campus,” Matthews recalls. “No black faculty or administrators. We got to know people in the community who were kindhearted and wanted us to succeed. They acted as surrogate parents and mentors.”

Despite some challenges during his college experience, Matthews said he learned lessons that have carried him through the rest of his life. “I learned to overcome obstacles, and I learned resilience,” he explains. “I made some lifelong friends, both black and white. Friendship comes in all shades.”

The co-founder of Cox, Matthews and Associates, an educational publishing and communications company, Matthews is publisher/editor-in-chief of Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, considered the premier news source for information about access and opportunity for all in higher education.

Matthews went on to simultaneously earn his J.D. and MBA from the University of South Carolina in 1976. Affiliated with George Mason University for the past 29 years, he has taught in both the Law School and School of Business Administration. He was recently inducted into the Writers’ Hall of Fame for his contributions in publishing.

The power of friendship

Frank E. Wise was a three-sport standout athlete at Eau Claire High School in 1972, just a few years after Gantt had graduated from Clemson and three years after Craig Mobley had became the University’s first African-American student-athlete in 1969. Clemson was on his short list because of the relationship Eau Claire faculty had with Clemson administrators. But Wise was a member of a large family, and staying close was a priority. Clemson won out for one simple reason. “I wanted my mother up there in the stands cheering me on,” Wise explains, “and she could do that if I came to Clemson.”

Unlike high school, Wise was unknown to his classmates at Clemson. But several factors helped smooth the waters. One was his teammate, Bennie Cunningham Jr., a local star athlete who had visited most of the same colleges as Wise and had played in the Shrine Bowl with him. Cunningham would introduce him to a friend who lived nearby, Rosemary Holland, which proved to be a turning point. The introduction led to a date and later to marriage.

“That proved to be a stable force in my transition to college,” Wise says with a laugh. “We just never saw any African-American women on East Campus.”

Wise also credits his relationship with administrators and faculty. “I had a great relationship with Dr. (R.C.) Edwards and Dr. Gordon Gray, dean of the School of Education. He had a genuine interest in African-American students and wanted them to be successful.”

Wise received his B.A. from Clemson in 1976 and his Master of City and Regional Planning in 1979. The first African-American city planner in Seneca, he later worked for the Health and Human Services Agency in Anderson. While he was in this position, Wise was diagnose with leukemia. And during his low points, he came to realize the value of the friendships he’d made at Clemson.

“I can’t say enough about G.G. Galloway and staying with him in Florida after my bone marrow transplant. He was also instrumental in pulling together the Clemson community. Contributions from the Clemson Family allowed us to focus on recovery rather than financial burdens. Those former student-athletes gave me hope. We don’t forget each other.”

All in the family

In 1978, with a stellar high school basketball career under her belt, Barbara Kennedy-Dixon ’85, M ’92 had several options for college. Clemson varsity athletics had just started for women in 1975. Kennedy-Dixon considered other schools, but after meeting coach Annie Tribble, the decision was easy. “The first time I spoke to her, it was like talking to my mother. She was so pleasant and personable. I didn’t know anything about Clemson, but I wanted to play for her.”

As a freshman, Kennedy-Dixon was one of three African-American women on the Lady Tigers team, which was a comfortable fit. “A family supports each person. I didn’t see anything different from my basketball family.” And part of her family experience was living in Clemson House, where permanent residents still occupied apartments on the top floors. “It was like having grandparents on campus,” she says.

In 1982, Clemson played in the first women’s NCAA basketball tournament; Kennedy-Dixon scored the first two points. She led the nation in scoring that season (1981-82) and was named a First-Team All-American by Kodak, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and “Basketball Weekly.” Still the ACC’s record holder in career scoring, field goals made and rebounding, she’s listed in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Records for season field goals and scoring average. She is the first woman to be inducted into the Clemson University Ring of Honor and Clemson’s Hall of Fame and the first Clemson woman inducted into the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame. Her Clemson jersey was retired at the end of her student-athlete career.

After playing in Italy for a couple of years, Kennedy-Dixon returned to Clemson as an assistant basketball coach, and she has remained enthusiastic about her Clemson home.

“Sometimes students see Clemson as a rural institution. But I tell them to focus on the people. There is a unique, strong family bond here. Once a Tiger, always a Tiger.”

Musical Tigers

By the time Eric Foster ’85 and Lisa Johnson Foster ’84, MBA ’95 came to Clemson in 1980, there was a small but growing number of African-American students. The first African-American drum major for the marching band at nearby Seneca High, Eric had attended Clemson’s Career Workshop program to recruit academically talented African-American students into engineering majors. Lisa had graduated from Lugoff-Elgin High School and already had a brother attending Clemson.

Both describe Tiger Band as an important part of their Clemson experience. By senior year, Eric had been selected to lead the band as drum major. Although not the first African-American to hold that position, he was the first student to simultaneously hold the position of band commander and drum major.

Lisa, now a disability examiner with the state of South Carolina, and Eric, an engineer with Square D-Schneider Electric in Seneca, say the best outcome from their Clemson days was meeting each other. Lisa says with a smile, “The best part of attending Clemson was finding the person with whom I would spend the rest of my life.”

Fifty years later

Harvey Gantt’s admission into Clemson opened the doors that led to the University that exists today. Clemson now has students of every race (as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau). There are students from almost every state in the U.S. (49), as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. And more than 90 countries are represented in the Clemson Family.

Fifty years later, a grateful University community commemorates Harvey Gantt’s courage and determination to do the right thing and set a truly good example.

Fifty years has made a difference – let’s keep building.

“I know that many of my classmates from the Class of ’65 had a lot to do with the changes we have witnessed. A lot of them, through personal and public initiatives, large and small, changed minds, changed attitudes and influenced behavior. That’s what an educated corps of good students do … they change minds, they change attitudes, and they influence behavior.”

This is an excerpt from the speech given by Harvey Gantt as part of the Victor Hurst Convocation on August 21, 2012. Hear his complete remarks at clemson.edu/clemsonworld/2013/winter/gantt.html.