Joseph Vaughn enrolled at Furman on January 29, 1965, becoming the first African-American undergraduate student. He graduated cum laude in 1968 and taught English in the Greenville County School District for 13 years. He died in 1991 at the age of 45.
The following is an excerpt from a Religion in Life talk on “Racial Integration at Furman: 21 Years Later” that Vaughn gave on April 1986:
I must candidly say to you that it was not without a little bit of anxiety that I came to Furman. But I readily realized that this was going to be a new experience not only for Joe Vaughn, but also for the some-2,000 white students, most of whom had never gone to school with a black student. But I was equally determined that I was coming to Furman to be “Joe Vaughn: student,” not “Joe Vaughn: black student.” And that was very, very important, because I understood the demands that a school of Furman’s character and quality would make on any student. I knew my first responsibility was to do well academically, because I knew that there would be many of you who would be coming after me…But Furman, I think, had the right attitude…
I knew that things were changing, and they would continue to change. We would no longer be isolated into communities that would be identifiable as either all black or all white. And Furman provided that kind of atmosphere. I can truthfully say that I can remember no incident that I would consider a negative racial incident. Now I’m sure there were students who probably wished that I weren’t here, but I never came in contact with them. I made a lot of lasting friends.
But I think that we showed people that a school such as Furman could successfully desegregate without the trauma that was to accompany many of the same moves over the country. When I came to Furman, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to find. But I was not surprised because of the expression of support and the friendships that developed soon. The students at Furman made me feel welcome...It also shows that people of various and varying backgrounds can live together peacefully and can serve as a model for the rest of this country…Furman should continue on this course of social justice and that Christian outreach that made our experiences here what it was.