Furman University in South Carolina Takes Measures to Atone for its Ties to Slavery

The board of trustees of Furman University has approved several recommendations from its Special Committee on Slavery and Justice. The university will change the name of James C. Furman Hall. The building is named after the university’s first president who was a slave owner and a strong opponent of abolition. In a 1860 speech, President Furman stated: “Now suppose this [the end of slavery was] accomplished. Four hundred thousand negroes turned loose. Fields uncultivated, barns empty, hordes of hungry marauders prowling over the country. Say nothing of the scenes brutal lust would lead.”

The building will now be known simply as Furman Hall, recognizing the contributions that many members of the Furman family made to the university.

The board of trustees also agreed to erect a statue on campus honoring the university’s first Black undergraduate student, Joseph Vaughn. He enrolled at Furman on January 29, 1965, and graduated in 1968. Vaughn taught English in the Greenville County School District for 13 years. He died in 1991 at the age of 45. A $1 million annual scholarship fund has been established by the university in his honor.

Other sites on campus will also be named to honor enslaved persons, Black workers, and early African American students.

In announcing the changes, Elizabeth Davis, president of Furman University stated that “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. It is important that all students, faculty, staff and alumni see themselves in the university’s story, and that all feel welcome here.”

African Americans make up only 6 percent of the student body at the university, according to the latest data supplied to the U.S. Department of Education.

The full report detailing the university’s ties to slavery may be found here.

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