Joseph Allen Vaughn was born in 1946 and attended Greenville’s all-black Sterling High School, a school at the center of the city’s Civil Rights Movement. He graduated third in his class and served as president of the French Club, the Physics Club, and the student body. As president of the Greenville and Southeastern NAACP Youth chapters, he met civil rights leaders Martin Luther King, Jr., and Roy Wilkins.
In May 1964, Vice President Francis Bonner and civic leader Sapp Funderburk hand-selected Vaughn to become the first African-American student at Furman University. He enrolled on January 29, 1965, hoping above all "to be a student" and "to be accepted as Joe Vaughn." Though he experienced stress and loneliness at Furman, his joy and exuberance helped diffuse much of the tension he faced. He excelled both socially and academically, joining the Pershing Rifles, the Baptist Student Union,
and the cheerleading squad. As chairman of the "Talk-a-Topic”"committee, he organized forums
to discuss race relations, student rights, and the Vietnam War. His senior year, as vice president of the Southern Student Organizing Committee, he led two peaceful civil rights demonstrations through downtown Greenville.
Vaughn graduated Furman cum laude in the spring of 1968 with a degree in English and became a teacher in the Greenville school system. His co-workers remember him as a "committed," and "enthusiastic" teacher whose joy inspired students and whose words could "move crowds." He led several district-wide drug education programs and reached out to students through special courses in creative writing, drama, and modern dance. He was a passionate political advocate, serving as president of the Greenville County Association of Teachers and the South Carolina Education Association. Though he retired from teaching in 1982, he remained a vocal social and political activist. He died in Columbia on May 31, 1991.