Lillian Brock Flemming grew up in Greenville, S.C., and graduated from Sterling High School, a center for Civil Rights activism. She enrolled at Furman in 1967 as one of the university’s first African-American women. She graduated in 1971, earned her Masters of Education from Furman in 1975, and taught math at Southside High School for twenty-three years. In 1981, she became the first African-American woman to serve on the Greenville City Council, and in 1989 she was elected Mayor Pro Tempore. In 1995, she became Furman’s first female African-American trustee.
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Flemming in May 2014:
After graduating from Sterling High School, I went to Furman University. My college roommate [Sarah Reese] and I were the first two African American females to graduate from Furman. It was difficult to adjust to at first…I actually decided to attend Furman because of the encouragement of my neighbor, Joseph Vaughn, and my high school guidance counselor. Being the first African-American female did not play a role in the decision. Thirdly, for my parents, it was convenient to have me in the same town since I suffered from respiratory problems…Joseph [Vaughn] was older but he lived in my neighborhood. He was the most intellectual, silly guy I knew. He loved everybody but he was an expert in English and French. He loved life and enjoyed it to the fullest…Race relations at Furman in 1968 were more tolerant than in other areas of Greenville, and students seemed more tolerant of diversity and willing to learn about cultural differences. Of course, the students who did not want to have a relationship with you, then they did not.
The following is a quote from Flemming, included in Terry Walters’ article “Just Lillian” in The Furman Magazine, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Fall 1994):
[Furman] gave me a whole different approach to life—that I could tackle anything. When you grow up in an environment where you see all black people all the time, then go to a school where you see all white people all the time, then you have got to—somehow—figure out who you are. And then make up your mind as to what you want to do and what you want to be to people. Furman gave me that opportunity. I got a chance to just be Lillian. And in this world, the only way we’re going to survive is to realize that we all belong together and we have to get along.