Furman Univ. honors first African American student, continues tackling its past with slavery

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Furman University has declared that Jan. 29 is Joseph Vaughn Day. This day will honor and commemorate the first African American student, Vaughn, to attend Furman exactly 55 years ago in 2020.

Nearly 40 members of Vaughn’s family joined the large crowd of alumni, school board members, students, and supporters in front of the university’s library to celebrate.

Furman senior and English Major, Alyssa Smith, was part of the committee that started the process of helping Furman highlight it’s past with slavery and segregation.

The committee brought that history to light and began creating ways to positively move forward with the information explained Smith.

Alyssa Smith holding a proclamation declaring Jan. 29 Joseph Vaughn Day

She added that they did something smaller for Vaughn last year. But, she said she’s happy with the large amount of progress made in such a short time.

“Seeing it now, and seeing what it is and what it’s about to be as we continue on with the program is just phenomenal,” Smith said.

Furman’s Center for Inclusive Communities Director, Deborah Allen, was also on the committee and said the work is part of an important bigger picture.

“We can’t move forward. We can’t think about our future, if we don’t know our past. It’s so important for us to be here celebrating our accomplishments. The things we’ve triumphed as an institution, and as a people,” Allen said.

Almost everyone wore purple or pinned a Joseph Vaughn ribbon on themselves in solidarity.

The school’s NAACP President, and senior neuroscience major, Nicaella Fogle, said the day and all the changes Furman has been making and continues to make in relation to their past, sends a powerful message.

Program for Joseph Vaughn Day handed out at the Chapel

“Recognizing the deep history of Furman, it’s just important just for me. ‘Ok, they notice that I’m here. They notice the work that I’m doing, and what’s going to come for future generations for Black and African American students on this campus’,” Fogle said.

After a few speeches in front of the library, nearly 40 members of Vaughn’s family lead the large group to the school’s chapel to continue the service.

Vaughn’s cousin, a Furman alumni, Marcus Tate, was shocked to see so many people celebrate the day with his family.

“To see that so many people, took so much time out of their day, to help commemorate 55 years ago what happened on this campus. It’s very touching, very touching and it shows we’re moving in the right direction,” Tate said.  

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