COLUMBIA -- State lawmakers voted to retain the only black member of the University of South Carolina's board of trustees Wednesday in a vote that drew attention to the board's lack of diversity and threatened the school's football recruiting.
Leah Moody, an attorney, was elected by an 80-77 vote to continue to represent York and Union counties. She defeated Alton Hyatt, a white pharmacist and lawyer who was considered a favorite last month before black lawmakers decried the prospect of losing Moody.
"It's a glorious day," said Rep. Todd Rutherford, a black Columbia Democrat who helped lead the outcry. "It says the General Assembly does care about diversity."
Even with Moody remaining on the board, an Associated Press analysis shows the school's governing board already is less diverse than others in the Southeastern Conference. Of the 10 public schools in the SEC, on average, about one in seven trustees are minorities.
Moody said she's proven herself as an interim trustee since last summer, when Gov. Mark Sanford appointed her following the resignation of the board's only black member at the time. Moody is to keep her seat until 2012.
"I feel they voted like they felt was right," Moody said after the vote. "I'm happy for the students of South Carolina."
A month ago, when black lawmakers thought Moody would lose the election, several said members of the black community were telephoning the university's black football recruits and telling them to question their commitments. The Associated Press could not verify any were called, and there have been no reports of a recruit changing his mind. However, fans of the team were outraged.
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who is black, said she believes threats to the team backfired and hurt Moody's prospects.
"The threats made it more difficult," said Cobb-Hunter, an Orangeburg Democrat. "It offered people who didn't support her an excuse."
She called Moody's election a positive step toward diversity but said more are needed. A current open seat -- caused by a trustee's recent death -- also should be filled by a minority woman, since a single nonwhite trustee and two women who have votes on the board are not enough, she said.
Lawmakers also noted the board still won't reflect the school's student body, which is 16 percent black.
Moody is one of 17 voting board members; 16 of those are selected by the Legislature to represent geographic regions and one is selected by the governor.