Furman University unveils new statue honoring first Black student to attend classes

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – Furman University hosted a ceremony Friday afternoon unveiling a statue to honor an important African-American student.

Joseph Vaughn was the first Black student to walk the campus of Furman University — where he attended classes in January of 1965.

The statue depicts Vaughn as he appeared in a photo at that time and as his classmates often saw him: walking down the library steps, books tucked under his arm.

“We very purposefully placed it here, in the center of campus, the most prominent and heavily trafficked part of Furman,” Furman President Elizabeth Davis said, “It’s facing outward, welcoming everyone, as Joe would have done.”

Vaughn’s acceptance into the university happened on the heels of desegregation and when he first arrived to campus he felt tension from his white peers —- along with the feeling of loneliness.

However, Vaughn persevered and eventually captivated his peers with his charming personality. From that point forward he went on to excel both academically and socially.

In fact, Vaughn became a very popular figure on campus. The Greenville native stood out as a member of the Baptist Student Union, ROTC, the Collegiate Educational Service Corps, the Southern Student Organizing Committee and the cheerleading squad.

He graduated cum laude with degrees in French and English. A powerful story Vaughn’s family said they hope inspires other minority students to keep pushing forward.

“During my time here at Furman we have had countless events to raise awareness, but only for an hour, maybe a day, then shuffled this piece of history back into the archives,” Marcus Tate, cousin of Joseph Vaughn said, “Now, there is a statue and plaza representing Furman’s consistent move forward in emphasizing that the only color that matters here on this campus is purple. Today is a testament that while no longer here, Joseph’s work of equality and inspiring others to reach their full potential continues now and for the years to come.”

More than 100 guests attended the Friday afternoon unveiling, taking their seats to the sounds of the Greenville Baha’i Community Drummers, honoring the faith Vaughn observed up to his death in 1991.

Furman University officials said their diversity and inclusion staff along with artist Steven Whyte brought their vision to life. Campus leaders hope the statue shows students how far the university has advanced since 1965.

“The Furman University that stood in the 1960s is not the Furman University that stands here today,” Qwameek Bethea ’21, president of Furman’s NAACP chapter said. “But we must not let his legacy of change go unanswered.”

Vaughn’s family members said the statue will serve as a generational reminder of the importance of a good education.

The statue will remain on display outside of Duke Library on the new Joseph Vaughn Plaza on Furman University’s campus. For more information, click here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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