Clark Murphy Residential Housing Complex

Seeking Abraham at Furman University

Clark Murphy Residential Housing Complex

Greenville, South Carolina 29617, United States

Created By: Brandon Inabinet


When Furman students documented the landscape in 2018, we found almost no representation of African-Americans in the campus landscape and very few of women.

One example sits right in front of you. Furman today is actually the result of the merger of two schools: Furman University (an all-male college located on Reedy Falls) and the Greenville Women's College (an all female college located on Heritage Green). In the 1930s, students were bused between campuses downtown and the move out to Travelers Rest cemented the single, integrated university. Still, in the era when campus was built (the 1950s), men lived in South Housing and women lived in this area (then known as Lakeside Housing--something that continued through the 1990s). The motto and seal, the parlors below, and all the names reflect features important to the GWC--the women's college.

Notice the marker to your right. It has Charles Judson at the top and Mary Judson, his sister below. Charles was one of the earliest professors and an important interim leader, and yet Mary was the trailblazer: she gave her life and wealth to the institution completely, she taught the first calisthenics courses in the South, which allowed women to move their bodies without corsets, she taught courses like rhetoric that taught women to speak their minds and actually motivated Greenville to allow women to read their own speeches (which wasn't tolerated at the time), and started a women's literary society and debate club--all new to this region. Still, to be honored in Furman's landscape, she appears below her lesser-known brother.

When the Greenville Women's College and Furman University merged, very little of the GWC people or traditions became a part of the merged university, except what you see in and around this building. The motto above your head was created by Mary Judson, and reads "Non Sine Pulvere," which translates "Not Without Dirt." It was older than any Furman motto and also recognized the special effort of women to achieve an education similar to a man's in the nineteenth century. It took resolve to challenge the status quo that the men across the river downtown wouldn't have known.

It also gestures to figures like Clark Murphy--the people at the university then and now who do all the "behind the scenes" labor---the janitorial work, the building construction and repairs, the emotional labor and counseling support, the medical and health support. Clark Murphy is documented doing all of these, mostly singlehandedly, as an enslaved person and then as a freed man, for the Greenville Woman's College.

It's important we acknowledge that labor, but especially so in light of what so many have assumed in our university history--that an education should only be for the society's elite, and the policies and laws should keep advantages in the hands of those elite.

And specific to Furman history, remember how James C. Furman depicted Black men--sexually rapacious, thieving, lazy, ignorant. And under his own enslavement and later employ was Clark Murphy. So it's a great thing that somebody so misrepresented as Clark Murphy in his own lifetime gets this honor, even as the women of the Greenville Women's College were already honoring Clark Murphy within their ability to do so, including dedicating pages of their yearbook and the college's bell in his honor and later memory. The photographs of him from the women's yearbook and newspaper clipping give us even better idea of who Clark Murphy was and what he meant to our institution.

Reflection Questions:

1. How do you feel about the name "Uncle Murphy"? How are members of staff, then and now, treated like family? How is this reflected in their pay or prestige?

This point of interest is part of the tour: Seeking Abraham at Furman University


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