The Presidents of South Housing

Hidden Histories of Furman University: Lake Walk

The Presidents of South Housing

Greenville, South Carolina 29617, United States

Created By: Seeking Abraham Project

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Between these brick buildings you'll find a staircase where you can see all five dormitories, named for Furman’s presidents. South Housing, or as students here refer to it, SOHO, is the primary housing for freshman students; it was once the men's dorms, across campus from the women's Lakeside Housing you saw earlier.

There are five main dormitory halls here, all named after former Furman presidents: Blackwell, Poteat, McGlothlin, Manly, and Geer.

Gordon Williams Blackwell, Furman’s 8th president (1965-1976), gets the biggest of the five SOHO dorms. Blackwell was the President of Florida State University who would not come to Furman unless it desegregated, which he successfully pleaded the Board of Trustees at Furman to accomplish. (Furman Paladin, 70, issue 13). Blackwell was also passionate about increasing opportunities for women and was appointed to Furman’s Non-discrimination and Affirmative Action Committee in 1974 to help with woman’s rights (Furman Magazine, 1974-03).

Now, climb up the stairs and you will be standing next to Geer Hall and Manly Hall. The presidents named in memory of these connecting dorms had strongly different values. Manly Hall is named for Charles Manly, a plantation owner with deep southern roots. Manly’s father was a revivalist in Edgefield who helped found Furman, before becoming the second president of the University of Alabama and later the lead chaplain of the Confederate Army. Both him and his father supported slavery and were in favor of a “peaceful secession” of southern states.

Bennette Eugene Geer, on the other hand, was a southerner with progressive views. As Furman’s president from 1933 to 1938, he oversaw the merger with Greenville Woman's College, an act that men like Furman and Manly wouldn't have fathomed (believing women should be obedient Christian wives, not trained for lives of intellectual rigor). According to the Furman website article written by Judith Bainbridge, Geer also founded the Greenville County Council for Community Development (GCCCD), where college and high school faculty offered popular continuing education programs. “For the first time, but hesitantly, black and white leaders worked together on community problems.” Programs tried to alleviate poverty, fight disease outbeaks, educate, and end racial animosity.

Geer moved fast with these ideas--too fast to sustain the budget of white school in the Jim Crow South experiencing the Great Depression, and caused the downtown institution to go into significant debt. John Plyler, for whom the science building is named, was brought in to correct the finances--moves that culminated in moving the university here, to the suburbs.

So, as we leave the dorms, take a second to think about how history is flattened in brick and bronze markers. Men with very different legacies and accomplishments get similar brick buildings in their honor; plaques list only the parallel achievements and their leadership of Furman.

Student Author: Emma Gibney

This point of interest is part of the tour: Hidden Histories of Furman University: Lake Walk


 

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