A black-and-white picture of Joseph Vaughn ’68 standing on the stairs in front of the James B. Duke Library, books in his left hand, eyes facing forward, is an iconic representation of desegregation at Furman. Vaughn became the university’s first black student on Jan. 29, 1965, and on Jan. 29, 2019, a student group led by Adare Smith ’20 will honor the occasion with a Joseph Vaughn event, culminating on the same steps.
The activities, sponsored by the English department, begin with a walk, scheduled to depart from the English department lounge in Furman Hall Suite 100 at 12:45 p.m. From there, the walk will proceed to the library steps, where Smith will deliver remarks, followed by a pizza and planning party in the library’s Pitts Room.
Vaughn was an English major who graduated cum laude in 1968 and went on to teach English in Columbia, South Carolina, and in the Greenville County School District for 13 years. He died in 1991.
“I think this is a huge part of our history and shows kind of where we were 54 years ago and where we’ve gone,” Deborah Allen, Furman’s associate director of diversity engagement and manager of the Center for Inclusive Communities, said. “I also believe that for our students of color, particularly our black students, it’s imperative for them to see themselves reflected in our history and for all students to know and understand and feel like they are part of the Furman community and they are represented in that.”
Allen added that the date of Vaughn’s first day of class is a perfect bridge between the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on the third Monday of every January and February’s Black History Month.
“Really, this is the starting point of making this a bigger annual event,” she said.
In October, the Furman Board of Trustees announced that it has endorsed expanding a scholarship fund that honors the memory of Vaughn by increasing the existing scholarship to $1 million in total annual awards and designating $3 million in endowment funds to ensure its continuation. The move, which follows a recommendation of the university’s Task Force on Slavery and Justice, will benefit African-American students attending Furman, particularly students who come from areas near the university’s historic campus locations in South Carolina.
On Feb. 16, the Alpha Phi Alpha Greenville Foundation will sponsor a Joseph Vaughn Scholarship Oratorical Competition in the Fellowship Hall of Springfield Baptist Church.
The American Association of Colleges & Universities encourages universities to be leaders in racial healing, and the Joseph Vaughn event joins other activities and programs planned by Furman. After announcing the Board of Trustees support for the Seeking Abraham Project, the university brought national leaders from Coming to the Table to lead events and dialogues around campus in early November.
On Jan. 18, 350 people attended the MLK Community Breakfast in the Melvin and Dollie Younts Conference Center to hear former NFL player, equality advocate and educator Wade Davis deliver a speech titled “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere: Sustaining the Struggle for Equity,” and on Jan. 21, the MLK Day of Service saw nearly 300 volunteers serve 11 agencies on campus in the Trone Student Center and in the Greenville area.
This work continues into the spring semester as students participate in intergroup dialogues on race and fill Black History Month with musical performances, alumni events and education. Learn more about the national celebration here: https://healourcommunities.org/day-of-racial-healing/.