Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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Furman University Erects Statue of First Black Student


Furman University unveiled a bronze statue of its first Black student, Joseph Vaughn.

The statue is modeled after a photograph of Vaughn in 1965 in which he is seen walking up to the university’s James B Duke Library after he enrolled 56 years ago. His bronze likeness has been installed in the plaza at the center of the campus. However, instead of facing the library, Vaughn’s statue faces outward toward the entrance of campus.

University President Elizabeth Davis explained that they intentionally placed the memorial to Vaughn in the center of campus as a greeting. 

“It’s facing outward, welcoming everyone just as Joe would have done,” Davis said.

Commemorating the Past

The statue is part of university work with its Task Force on Slavery and Justice, which was inspired by a 2015 op-ed that a Furman student wrote. His statue is one of many recommendations in a report released by the Task Force that were proposed to “begin to reckon with the past, repair the harms, and create increasing justice in each generation.”

Other recommendations include renaming certain roads and buildings after prominent Black students and staff in the university’s history, creating more memorials such as bronze plaques, signs, and glass plates commemorating certain historical objects and locations, and the creation of a Campus Oversight Committee responsible for “making future decisions about campus acquisitions when they impact campus inclusivity and space.”

The university started work on expanding its Joseph Vaughn Scholarship for students in 2018. Last year, Furman renamed one of its dormitories after Clark Murphy, a Black groundskeeper at the university’s former Women’s College.

Vaughn’s Legacy in Education

Vaughn passed away in 1991. Furman University described how Vaughn had lived a decorated life, committed to the pursuit of civil rights and education. He served as president of the Greenville and Southeast National Association for the Advancement of Colored People student chapters. He was an active participant in several peaceful Civil Rights protests. 

Ed Good, chairman of the Furman Board of Trustees, was a sophomore at the university when Vaughn first arrived. Good recalled that Vaughn was not welcomed by everyone on campus, that he even found a noose hanging from his doorknob shortly after he arrived.

“This statue is a rebuke of old notions and a promise that we will not return,” Good said. “It is a symbol that Furman, now and forever, values diversity and inclusion.”

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