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Educator and Harvey B. Gantt Center co-founder Mary Harper dies
Champion of Black culture and philanthropy
Published Friday, October 2, 2020 12:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

Mary Harper, co-founder of the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts & Culture, died on Oct. 1.

Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture co-founder Mary T. Harper died on Oct. 1.

Harper, 84, died at 6:19 p.m. in Charlotte. The Gantt named their grand lobby after Harper and co-founder Bertha Maxwell Roddey in August 2018. Harper also received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2014, which is the highest award for a civilian in North Carolina. She is also the co-namesake for the Gantt’s donor society, the Harper-Roddey Society.

“It is with a profound sense of loss that I share the news of our founding mother, Dr. Mary T. Harper’s passing,” Gantt Center President and CEO David Taylor said in a statement. “Fortunately, we had the distinct pleasure of honoring her contributions to this esteemed institution throughout her life. The Board of Directors and staff of the Harvey B. Gantt Center are forever indebted to Dr. Harper for her vision, her commitment and her determination to preserve Charlotte’s African American story and to create a legacy for future generations. We are indeed grateful to her and her family for their support over the past 46 years and we extend our deepest condolences to those she left behind.”

Harper, who was born in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina, earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Livingstone College. She pursued a master’s in English from UNC Greensboro and Union Graduate School in Cincinnati. From 1961-67 she taught English in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, teaching students like former U.S. Rep. Mel Watt. She gave lectures on African American literature throughout the nation. Harper also served as assistant professor of English at UNC Charlotte while she pursued a doctorate. She and mentor Roddey, who was then the director of the Black Studies Center at UNCC, created the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Afro-American Cultural & Service Center in 1974 to uncover and preserve Charlotte’s Black history. Their vision would later transform into the Gantt Center.

“Because of the vision that Dr. Maxwell Roddey and Dr. Harper put into action, the Gantt Center now stands as a beacon in Charlotte to showcase the culture, the history and creative ingenuity of the African American community and the African diaspora,” Taylor said.

Other honors include the Ben Robinson Award for Outstanding Service to Black Studies; Mu Tau Chapter, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Award in Recognition of Service; the McKinney Award for Distinguished Service; and Outstanding Educator Award presented by the Sixth District of Omega Psi Phi fraternity.

Harper earned national recognition as a Kool Achiever Award Finalist for Outstanding Community Service in the Arts.

UNCC established the Harper-Thomas Endowment in 2013 to honor Harper and fellow professor Herman Thomas. The endowment helps first-generation college students study abroad.



What an amazing and accomplished lady. She did so much for others. I know you will miss her.
Posted on October 4, 2020

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