Joseph Vaughn Plaza

Furman Reflective Walk

Joseph Vaughn Plaza

Greenville, South Carolina 29617, United States

Created By: The Cothran Center for Vocational Reflection, Furman University


I am grateful for this opportunity to reflect on the historic nature of the erection of a memorial to the first African American to attend Furman University. As a black aluma, this memorial affirms the inclusion of black students on Furman’s campus. As I approach my sixties and embrace my role as an elder, I am even more conscious and aware of the need to leave a legacy. I wonder what future Furman alum may be reading my words 50 years from now. I wanted to make some attempt to reconcile what it means for me, an African American woman, from a family with less than enough financial resources, to attend Furman University, with the knowledge that I now have that Furman’s founder, Richard Furman, defended the institution of slavery. As I re-read Furman’s “Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population,” written nearly 200 years ago, I wonder what his reaction would be to a memorial to Joseph Allen Vaughn.

Therefore, I ask myself, why me? Why now? Why am I the one who has been given this opportunity? How is it that a descendant of kidnapped and enslaved Africans is reflecting on the significance of the statue and memorial on campus to the first African American undergraduate to attend Furman?

During my time as an undergraduate, I was involved in a number of Furman organizations, including serving as President of the Student League for Black Culture (SLBC). A part of the mission of SLBC was to create a sense of welcome and belonging for black students. I knew of Joseph Vaughn as a student, but did not have an opportunity to meet Joe before he passed in 1991. I did not realize it then, but that work as an undergraduate laid the foundation for me to return to Furman in 1996 as a professional staff member in Student Affairs. I had an opportunity to create that sense of welcome and belonging for black students as well as other underrepresented populations at Furman. I also worked to reconnect Black alumni to Furman, as many had received their degrees and not returned or been involved with Furman. When I arrived in 1996, a scholarship in Joe’s honor had been established, but not well funded. As black alumni can attest, I was very committed to increasing the gifts so that more students can benefit from the scholarship. I was elated to learn of the Board of Trustees commitment to allocate $1,000,000 to the Joseph Vaughn Scholarship fund.

Before my departure from Furman in 2014, I was honored to be a member of the group that planned various events to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of Joseph Vaughn’s admittance to Furman. Furman continued this work and became a member of the Universities Studying Slavery consortium. This led to the creation of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice. The Task Force on Slavery & Justice courageously and honestly made reference to Furman's Exposition on the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population, and includes the following in its description of Richard Furman:

[Quoting here] Furman was also a slaveholder, and in 1822, authored a Biblical defense of slavery at the request of fellow clergymen in the wake of a hurricane and the foiled Denmark Vesey uprising in Charleston. With the creation of a Task Force on Slavery & Justice, the university initiated a formal reckoning with this legacy in 2017.

The construction of the Joseph Vaughn Statue and Plaza is a key component of Furman’s reckoning. Indeed, the first recommendation of the Slavery and Justice Task Force was the creation of the Joseph Vaughn Plaza:

[Quoting from the Task Force Recommendations they write] WE RECOMMEND that a statue of Joseph Vaughn be installed at the spot of the iconic photograph in which he approaches the James B. Duke Library, capturing Vaughn’s enthusiastic commitment to education. The statue should be life-size and incorporate a material that allows onlookers to see themselves in Vaughn. January 29th, the day of his enrollment (in1965), should be the date of the sculpture dedication and thereafter should be commemorated as Joseph Vaughn Day to celebrate and encourage active student engagement and challenging the status quo. The sculpture will mark the dedication of the first permanent representation of a person of color on Furman’s campus, marking a commitment towards more.

I am thankful for Joseph Allen Vaughn and the barriers he broke, which allowed me to step through those same doors fifteen years later in 1980. Much had changed at Furman. My first year classmates included about 25 African Americans, 7 of them black women. I often tell the story about my roommate and I being the only Black people in our Freshman dorm. We were slowly making change, but had not yet hired the first tenure track African American professor. That would happen in 1983, with the hiring of Dr. Cherie Maiden and Dr. Saundra Audrey. Dr. Maiden retired from Furman in 2021 after 38 years of teaching French and African literature.

The Joseph Vaughn Plaza and statue were unveiled in April 2021. I was not able to attend in person, but I was able to join virtually. I have never been more proud to be a Furman Paladin than on the day. There was a sense of belonging that I felt that is hard to explain. To have a memorial to someone who looks like me on a campus that I know was not originally built to include me, is quite impactful. In many ways, this statue says that I have a place at Furman. That black people and other groups that were historically excluded, have a place at Furman. Joseph Allen Vaughn was a proud Furman alumnus and as a “majority of one”, as his statue indicates, made a difference for me and so many who call Furman Alma Mater. I am one proud alumna. It is indeed great to be a Furman Paladin! I am grateful for the educational foundation created for me at Furman University.

Questions for Reflection:

  • How would you describe your own sense of belonging (at Furman)?

  • How have you built relationships and community with people from different social identities and backgrounds?

  • What barriers do you see (or are impacted by) that need to be removed?

Thank you for your time and attention.

Contributor information:

A native of Darlington, SC, Dr. Idella Glenn is a Furman alumna, class of 1984/86 (BS in Computer Science/Math). Dr. Glenn returned to Furman in 1996 as Director of Multicultural Affairs, serving 18 years in various DEI roles, with the last being Assistant Vice President, Student Development & Director of Diversity and Inclusion.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Furman Reflective Walk


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