Harvey Gantt was born on January 14, 1943. On January 1963, Harvey Gantt of Charleston, South Carolina, became the first black student to enroll at Clemson College (now Clemson University). Gantt, at twenty-one, had waged a two-year court battle through his legal counselors Constance Baker Motley and Matthew J. Perry, Jr. to attend Clemson before his admission was ordered by District Judge C. C. Wyche in Spartanburg. Gantt became the first black architect to graduate from Clemson.
In 1974 Gantt filled the Charlotte City Council seat of Fred Alexander, when Alexander was elected to the North Carolina Senate. In 1975 Gantt was elected to the Council and served from 1976 to 1983. From 1981 to 1983 he served as Mayor ProTem. In 1983 he became the first African-American mayor of Charlotte.