Alumna Rhondda Thomas Receives Grant for Research on African Americans Who Built Clemson University

April 7, 2015

Rhondda Thomas, PhD 2007, an associate professor of English at Clemson University, recently received a $100,000 grant that will "will allow her the time to fill in the missing pieces of Clemson's black history and expand it to 1963 when Harvey Gantt, the first African-American student, enrolled."

rhondda thomas

Thomas first became interested in this project when researching the lives of the convicts that built the University, even down to crafting the bricks used in Tillman Hall. In her research, Thomas learned that some of the convict-workers were only thirteen years old, imprisoned for stealing clothing and sentenced to six months of hard labor. Convict labor went on at the University until 1913, when the University was unable to pay the state's fees. It was then that the school turned to paid service employees and housed them in cabins near the property. Thomas hopes this grant will allow her to trace the role of blacks at Clemson from "slaves to sharecroppers to convicts to employees."

According to the article from GreenvilleOnline, "Thomas hopes the research will transform the university, not only its narrative but also the campus. She wants a series of plaques to be installed to show where events unfolded."

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