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Greenville Business Magazine

Furman Board Of Trustees Approves Recommendations To Rename Hall, Honor First African-American Student

Photo: Joseph Vaughn was the first African-American to enroll at Furman.

The Furman University Board of Trustees has approved a number of recommendations made by the board’s Special Committee on Slavery and Justice, including removing “James C.” from James C. Furman Hall, and creating a statue and day of celebration to honor the late Joseph Vaughn, the university’s first African-American student.

The recommendations were unanimously approved by the full board at its meeting on May 18. A recording of the campus announcement event held Wednesday, May 22, may be viewed here.

The name of the university’s first president, James C. Furman, will be removed from the building located at the heart of campus, and the building will be renamed Furman Hall, in honor and celebration of the entire Furman family and all of the students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have contributed to the history of the university.

The university also will erect a statue of Vaughn in a prominent, comprehensive place of celebration and reflection on campus that will help tell the story of his important contributions to Furman’s history. A student group will work with faculty and staff to create an annual Joseph Vaughn commemorative day and celebration.

The Special Committee made its recommendations to the board based on a set of recommendations that were part of the report, “Seeking Abraham,” completed by the university’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice this past summer. A number of the report’s other recommendations that fall under the purview of the administration and faculty are under consideration or being carried out.

“The trustees are pleased to approve the recommendations made by the Special Committee on Slavery and Justice, which will guide Furman in fully acknowledging and sharing its history to foster a more inclusive future,” said Alec Taylor, chair of the Board of Trustees. “The university’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice is to be commended for the thoughtful and deliberate process that produced the ‘Seeking Abraham’ report. I also want to thank the Special Committee of the board, chaired by trustee Baxter Wynn, for their work in reviewing the report, considering the recommendations contained therein, and making their recommendations to the board.”

The other recommendations approved by the board include:

  • Renaming the lakeside housing area the Clark Murphy Housing Complex in honor of Clark Murphy, an African-American who worked for decades as a groundskeeper at the Greenville Woman’s College, which later merged with Furman University.
  • Naming the walkway area leading up to the Bell Tower the Abraham Sims Plaza in recognition of Abraham Sims and other enslaved persons who built and worked on Furman’s various campuses prior to the university moving to its current location.
  • Honoring Lillian Brock-Flemming and Sarah Reese, Furman’s first female African-American students, in a comprehensive place of celebration and reflection on campus. The university will also explore naming programs related to their fields of study and their connections to Furman and the Greenville community.
  • Continuing to inventory and rank the university’s use of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles as part of its overall investment process.
  • In concert with the board, president, faculty, staff, and students, reviewing the university’s mission, vision, values and motto, and recommending any possible changes to the board for approval.
  • In consultation and coordination with faculty, staff, and alumni, providing context in markers and plaques throughout campus to honestly acknowledge the university’s history and tell a more complete and inclusive story about the people and actions that shaped Furman.

Taylor said the university will make every effort to include minority-owned businesses in carrying out the recommendations and that Furman’s chief diversity officer will track and regularly report on the progress of the recommendations. The Board of Trustees also committed to providing the lead gift for the Vaughn statue and to supporting other related projects.

“We are proud of the work done by the Special Committee and the Task Force, looking honestly at Furman’s past while considering what will best move the university forward in the future,” said Furman President Elizabeth Davis. “It is important that all students, faculty, staff, and alumni see themselves in the university’s story, and that all feel welcome here.”

The university formed the Task Force on Slavery and Justice in the spring of 2017 to examine Furman’s historical connections to slavery and to help the university better understand and learn from its past. The Task Force report, “Seeking Abraham,” includes a history of the school’s early ties to slavery and made a number of recommendations for the university to consider.

At its fall 2018 meeting, the Furman trustees accepted the Task Force’s report, appointed the Special Committee, and endorsed the administration increasing the Joseph Vaughn Scholarship to $1 million in total annual awards, immediately addressing one of the Task Force recommendations. The scholarship fund supports students attending Furman who come from areas where the university had campuses around South Carolina before moving to its current Greenville location.

Furman is a member of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium headquartered at the University of Virginia. The consortium consists of dozens of colleges and universities from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Other participating schools in the consortium include Brown University, Clemson University, Davidson College, Georgetown University, the University of Georgia, the University of Richmond, Sewanee: The University of the South, the University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University and Washington & Lee University.

For more information, visit the Task Force on Slavery and Justice website. Media contact: Tom Evelyn, VP for University Communications, 315-854-4437 (cell), [email protected].