Task Force on Slavery and Justice

 

With the support of the board, president and provost, the Task Force on Slavery and Justice was formed in the spring of 2017 to examine Furman University’s historical connections to slavery and to help Furman better understand and learn from its past. This pursuit builds upon Furman’s principles as an academic institution that embraces liberal arts and sciences ideals, including a high regard for human value, reflection, innovation, and ceaseless accuracy. The process has been guided by scholarship and undergraduate research in communication studies, history, sociology and sustainability, among others, and led by students, faculty, staff and alumni. Comments or questions may be shared at slavery.justice@furman.edu.

News and Announcements

Work to begin next week on Joseph Vaughn Plaza – October 2020

TO: Students, Faculty, Staff
FROM: Furman University

Furman University will break ground next week on the Joseph Vaughn Plaza, which will be home to a statue honoring Furman’s first Black undergraduate student and establish a place for reflection and celebration of those who helped to make the university a more equitable and inclusive place.

The plaza will incorporate the front steps leading up to the James B. Duke Library and the grassy area to the right, facing the building. The statue of Vaughn will stand in the right corner of the stairs, and is based on an iconic photo of Vaughn taken during his first semester on Furman’s campus in the winter of 1965.

During the construction of the plaza, which is expected to be completed by January, the Duke Library will remain open with access through the front doors. Access to the plaza in front of the library will be unavailable for most of the project. The plaza furniture will be relocated to a tent nearby, and that space will include wireless access and be available for gathering, studying and eating. The front porch of the library should remain open for much of the project.

By week’s end, the contractor will install temporary steps and a walkway for access to the library porch and a construction fence around the project area. The majority of the demolition work – removing the old and broken stones and bricks – is scheduled for Saturday, October 10. As much as possible, the noisiest parts of the construction will take place when classes are not in session and outside the academic schedule.

Please see this news story for more information.

Updates on ‘Seeking Abraham, ’ new building names – June 2020

Dear Campus Community,

I write to you today as we celebrate Juneteenth, a commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, marked on the date two years later when African Americans in Texas learned of emancipation. We recognize the significance of this date as horrifying incidents of racism continue more than 150 years later. I have asked Chief Diversity Officer Michael Jennings and others to help us think through how we can do more to recognize this moment in future years.

With this in mind, I am very proud of the work so many members of our campus are and have been doing to address and acknowledge racism and how it has affected our community. One example is the ongoing work of various committees who are carrying out the recommendations of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice and its “Seeking Abraham” report.

I want to update you on a few of those projects. As you may know, Furman has commissioned an artist to create a statue of Joseph Vaughn, the university’s first African American undergraduate student. The statue will be placed in front of the university’s library in a place of reflection and celebration, and is expected to be unveiled at the second annual Joseph Vaughn Day on Jan. 29.

You may also remember that we have significantly expanded a scholarship named for Mr. Vaughn that provides need-based financial aid primarily for African American students from areas of South Carolina where Furman has had campuses throughout its history.

This past spring, we took two more steps toward more fully telling the Furman story and representing all who have helped shape the university over its nearly 200 years. This included removing the name of James C. Furman from the building that currently houses classrooms and offices. The name has been changed simply to “Furman Hall” as a way to honor the other members of the Furman family and community who worked to support the university over time. Although James C. Furman was Furman’s first president and worked to save the university in difficult times, he was also a vocal proponent of slavery and secession.

We also renamed our lakeside housing complex for Clark Murphy and added a plaque acknowledging the labor of Mr. Murphy, a much-loved member of the Furman community who was a long-time janitor, groundskeeper and handyman at the Greenville Woman’s College, which later merged with Furman. This housing complex is the first physical structure on Furman’s campus named for an African American. Please see the new Clark Murphy Housing Complex and Furman Hall plaques.

We had to postpone the spring ceremonies that were planned to celebrate and commemorate these name changes and their significance. We are working to reschedule these events in the fall and will follow up with those details as soon as possible because it is important that we come together around these milestones.

Thank you again to all involved in reflecting on our past, making thoughtful recommendations on moving forward, and helping us to carry out these changes. I look forward to continuing the conversations we’re having with our faculty, staff, students and alumni to ensure we’re taking real actions to create a community in which all are welcomed, cared for, and celebrated.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

Furman Hall rededication, plaque unveiling – Feb. 2020

Dear Furman Community,

I would like to invite you to attend a campus ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 4 p.m. to rededicate Furman Hall and unveil a new plaque providing context for its name. The event will be held at the Furman Mall-side entrance to the building.

The building’s new name, which removes “James C.,” was unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees this past May to honor the entire Furman family and celebrate and note “the diverse community of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who study, work and gather” on the campus. The decision was based on a recommendation from the “Seeking Abraham” report.

Board Chair Alec Taylor ’75, Chief Diversity Officer Michael Jennings, and Distinguished University Public Historian and Scholar Courtney Tollison ’99 will join me in speaking at the event. Alex Sealey ’21, one of Dr. Tollison’s students, will describe a project she is working on to more fully tell the story of Clark Murphy, who worked at the Greenville Woman’s College, which later merged with Furman.

Changing the name of one of our signature buildings is an important step toward including and recognizing the entire Furman family and all who have contributed to our history and success. I hope everyone will join us as we mark this special day in Furman history.

Please see our news release for more information.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

 

Joseph Vaughn Day to honor legacy – Jan. 2020

Dear Campus Community,

I am delighted to invite you to join us on Wednesday, January 29, to celebrate the inaugural Joseph Vaughn Day, in honor of Furman’s first African American undergraduate student.

The celebration will begin at 12:15 p.m. near the steps of the James B. Duke Library, the location of an iconic photo of Vaughn, who desegregated Furman when he enrolled at the university 55 years ago. The Furman University Gospel Ensemble will sing as the community gathers for a short commemorative walk along Milford Mall to Daniel Chapel.

The program will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the Chapel, with comments from Board of Trustees Chair Alec Taylor, the presentation of a proclamation creating Joseph Vaughn Day in Greenville, a reading from the Baha’i faith by Rodney Acker ’73, a remembrance of Vaughn by his cousin, Marcus Tate, and closing remarks by History Professor Stephen O’Neill.

Later, at 6 p.m., June Manning Thomas of the University of Michigan will give a related CLP talk, “Struggling to Learn: Schools, Racial Inequality and the Civil Rights Era in South Carolina,” in the Watkins Room at the Trone Student Center.

Joseph Vaughn Day was created following a recommendation by the Task Force on Slavery and Justice in its “Seeking Abraham” report. The Board of Trustees approved the recommendation and another to build a statue honoring Vaughn in front of the Duke Library in a place of celebration and reflection. To learn more about Joseph Vaughn Day, please see our news release.

Thank you to all involved with organizing this special recognition of Joseph Vaughn and his significant contribution to Furman becoming more inclusive. I look forward to celebrating and honoring his legacy with our campus and the Greenville community.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

Joseph Vaughn statue, Furman Hall updates – Nov. 2019

Dear Furman Community,

I’m writing to update you on the progress of several “Seeking Abraham” recommendations approved by the Board of Trustees.

A campus working group that is developing plans for the Joseph Vaughn statue and place of reflection and celebration has selected the architect and recommended a location for the space in front of the James B. Duke Library, which follows the suggestion of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice. This location is the site of an iconic photograph of Vaughn, Furman’s first African-American student.

The next step will be to select a sculptor and to create detailed plans for the space, which we will share with campus in the coming months. The university could break ground on the space this spring, pending final approval of the plans and location by the Board of Trustees.

Another working group, which is taking an inventory of signage and markers around campus, is preparing the plaques for the renaming of Furman Hall that will remove “James C.” and the renaming of the Lakeside Housing Complex for Clark Murphy.

Over the winter break, facilities will replace the Furman Hall building lettering, which will require the use of a crane and temporarily closing several entrances for safety. The working group expects to complete the new plaque for Furman Hall in the spring, when the university plans to hold an event to celebrate the building’s new name and its significance.

Other, related events are being planned for the spring and next fall, and we hope to share those details with you soon. Please see our news story for more information about the working groups and to view an early concept of the Joseph Vaughn space.

Please join me in thanking the task force, the special committee, the working groups and the many faculty, students, staff and trustees who are involved in moving this important work forward. I sincerely appreciate their hard work and dedication and I am excited to see the recommendations take shape and become real.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

President announces Board of Trustees resolution – May 2019

Dear Furman Community,

Since the Task Force on Slavery and Justice was formed in 2017, our campus has been working together to examine and fully understand our history and our connections to slavery, and how to best use this knowledge. This collective work has encouraged and guided us in acknowledging this past. We cannot change our history, but we can, as we are doing today, show that we are true champions for a more inclusive future.

In October, the Board of Trustees accepted the Task Force on Slavery and Justice report, “Seeking Abraham,” endorsed expanding the Joseph Vaughn scholarship, and encouraged the administration and faculty to move forward in considering the report’s other recommendations not under Board purview. The Board also established a special committee to consider the report’s recommendations that required trustees’ approval. The Special Committee on Slavery and Justice gathered information, met with the Task Force and other experts, and interviewed current and former trustees to produce a set of recommendations it presented to the Board this past weekend.

At a campus event this morning, we announced that the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the special committee’s recommendations, including removing the name of the university’s first president, James C. Furman, from the building located at the heart of campus, and renaming it Furman Hall, in honor and celebration of the entire Furman family and all of the students, faculty, staff and alumni who have contributed to the history of the university.

The university will also create a statue of Joseph Vaughn, Furman’s first African-American student, and place it in a prominent, comprehensive place of celebration and reflection on campus to help tell the story of Vaughn’s important contributions to Furman’s history.

The other recommendations approved by the Board include:

  • Naming the lakeside housing area the Clark Murphy Housing Complex in honor of Mr. Murphy, an African-American who worked for many years at the Greenville Woman’s College, which later merged with Furman University.
  • Naming the walkway area leading up to the Bell Tower as Abraham Sims Plaza, in recognition of Mr. Sims and other enslaved persons who built and worked on Furman’s various campuses prior to the university moving to its current location.
  • Honoring Lillian Brock-Flemming and Sarah Reese, Furman’s first female African-American students, in a comprehensive place of celebration and reflection on campus. The university also will explore naming programs related to their fields of study and their connections to Furman and the Greenville community.
  • Continuing to inventory and rank the university’s use of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles as part of its overall investment process.
  • In concert with the Board, president, faculty, staff and students, reviewing the university’s mission, vision, values and motto, and recommending any potential changes to the Board for approval.
  • In consultation and coordination with faculty, staff and alumni, providing context in markers and plaques throughout campus to honestly acknowledge the university’s history and tell a more complete and inclusive story about the people and actions that shaped Furman.

The Board also committed to providing the lead gift for the creation of the Joseph Vaughn statue and to supporting other related projects.

Alec Taylor, chair of the Board of Trustees, and I would like to share our gratitude and appreciation to the Task Force and the Special Committee for their commitment to carrying out this important work in a thoughtful and meaningful way. We understand that there is nothing we can do to alter or fully address our past. We can, however, make real changes that show our commitment to diversity and inclusion and to ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to thrive at Furman and to feel a sense of belonging here.

Please see our news release for more information about today’s announcement.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

Message from the President - October 2018

Dear Furman Community,

I’ve been pleased to see our campus come together as a community over the past few months to discuss the Task Force on Slavery and Justice report, “Seeking Abraham.” Our Board of Trustees met this past weekend and started its process to consider the report’s
recommendations.

At a campus event today, Board Chair Alec Taylor announced that the trustees accepted the report, formed a special committee of trustees to consider the recommendations that require board approval, and endorsed the administration and faculty moving forward
in considering the recommendations that fall under their purview, respectively.

Alec also announced that the board endorsed immediately expanding the scholarship fund that honors the memory of the late Joseph Vaughn, the university’s first African-American student. The total annual awards for the scholarship will grow to $1 million, with
a designated $3 million in endowment to support it in perpetuity.

Following a task force recommendation, the need-based scholarship will benefit African-American students who come from areas near the university’s historic campus locations, and build on our efforts to diversify the student body.

I want to thank both the task force and the trustees for their efforts as we continue to examine and reflect on our history. If Furman is going to keep moving toward a positive future, then we must understand our past, how we have been shaped by it, and what
that means going forward.

I’m excited about our progress and look forward to continuing our momentum.

Please see our news story for more information about today’s announcement.

Warmly,

Elizabeth Davis
President

The task force report, “Seeking Abraham,” is released - July 2018

Last April, in concurrence with President Elizabeth Davis and the Furman Board of Trustees, I formed a Task Force on Slavery and Justice to examine the questions raised by a student, Marian Baker, in her opinion piece in the student newspaper. The report, “Seeking Abraham,” represents the findings of the Task Force’s work over the past year and their recommendations for moving forward.

I would like to sincerely thank the Task Force members for their diligent efforts and open deliberation process. This work of collecting evidence, reviewing our values and history, consulting with students, staff, faculty, and alumni is truly in line with the serious academic endeavor represented by The Furman Advantage. Beginning with a survey of students’ opinions last fall, attending multiple conferences (including the Universities Studying Slavery consortium, of which Furman is a proud member), hosting numerous academic and alumni speakers, and consulting with the nation’s foremost experts, the Task Force’s process has been a model for other institutions.

Many colleges and universities have taken on similar projects looking at their pasts. This project goes further by delving deep into an overwhelmingly southern, pro-slavery history and then confronting apathy with a proportional energy and redress. New campus rituals, landscape changes, and university commitments are holistic, sweeping, and minimally needed to make the pivot. This is something that our nation needs to do, and institutions of higher learning can lead the way.

Given the findings of this report, our work as an institution will not be done until every member of our community — academic and regional — has undergone a similar process. I hope we can give this the full attention and support it deserves. The ongoing process of “Seeking Abraham” and justice is the sort of work that is central to the liberal arts and sciences.

We must acknowledge and seriously wrestle with ways to address the disadvantages created by our past. We will do everything we can to ensure this report and its recommendations remain one of the highest priorities of our university.

Sincerely,

George Shields
Furman University Provost

The Task Force on Slavery and Justice is formed - June 2017

Dear Colleagues,

I am proud to share with you that Furman University is embarking on a journey to examine and fully understand our history and any connections to slavery, and to use this knowledge to inform our vision for the future. I’ve commissioned a Task Force on Slavery and Justice to examine our history and make a series of recommendations for recognizing slaves and the roles they may have played in our early history. The Task Force will also recommend programming aimed to facilitate conversations and understanding of ourselves and each other.

The Furman community has a deep respect for its founders and will look to discover how we can bridge their legacies with our strategic vision set forth through The Furman Advantage ­— our promise to prepare students for lives of purpose, fulfillment, and accelerated career and community impact in a diverse and global world.

This is a step taken by many universities and, for Furman, is in line with our principles as an academic institution that embraces liberal arts and sciences ideals, such as a high regard for human value, reflection, innovation, and ceaseless accuracy. In fact, as part of this effort, Furman has joined the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium headquartered at the University of Virginia. The consortium consists of 26 colleges and universities from the United States and Canada. Other participating schools in the consortium include Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, Wake Forest University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Mississippi.

The Task Force, chaired by Associate Professor of Communication Studies Brandon Inabinet, includes Furman historians, social scientists, student writers and leaders, and staff. The Task Force will meet throughout the 2017-18 academic year.

In an organizational meeting, the Task Force has appointed History Professor Steve O’Neill to conduct full-time research for the project and has begun curating a series of speakers, programs, and experts to present throughout the academic year.

I look forward to sharing their progress and reports with you, as well as a website that will launch in the next few weeks. For questions about the work of this important project, please contact me or email the Task Force at slavery.justice@furman.edu. Thank you.

Sincerely,

George Shields
Furman University Provost

Resources

Special Committee on Slavery and Justice Recommendations Working Groups

Board of Trustees Announcement Event - May 2019

May 22, 2019, campus announcement regarding Furman’s Board of Trustees approval of the Special Committee on Slavery and Justice recommendations. Speakers include Furman President Elizabeth Davis; Baxter Wynn, a trustee and chair of the Board’s Special Committee on Slavery and Justice; and Deborah Allen, who leads the Center for Inclusive Communities and is a member of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice.

Furman University || Board of Trustees Announcement Event – May 2019

Board of Trustee resolution accepting special committee recommendations

WHEREAS, the Board of Trustees of Furman University (the “Board”) established the Special Committee on Slavery and Justice (the “Committee”) in October 2018 to consider the report and recommendations from the Task Force on Slavery and Justice (the “Task Force”); and

WHEREAS, the Board commends Committee members Baxter Wynn, Chair, Kevin Bryant, Robert Blocker, Robert Hill, Rachelle Thompson, Lee Dilworth, Francie Heller, Rick Timmons, Dick Riley, Emeritus, Elizabeth Davis, ex officio, Alec Taylor, ex officio, and Ed Good, ex officio, for their dedication to this important project, carried out over more than six months of careful study and thoughtful deliberation; and

WHEREAS, the Committee consulted with members of the Task Force, historians, each member of the Board and certain former Board members, and other experts in diversity and inclusion; collected information, and researched other institutions in order to submit final recommendations to the Board at the May 2019 meeting; and

WHEREAS, the Board recognizes that the recommendations presented by the Committee and the actions that the Board takes in regards to the recommendations are of great importance to Furman, but are not an end in themselves; and

WHEREAS, enhancing diversity and inclusion at Furman and ensuring that all members of the Furman community have opportunities to thrive, will continue to be an ongoing effort involving Furman students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Board, and other university leaders.

NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED, that the proposed recommendations of the Committee are approved and adopted in the form submitted to the Board (which is included as a part of and attached to this resolution), with the effects stated therein, and they shall be dated this day, May 18, 2019.

Special Committee’s report to the Board of Trustees

Board of Trustees resolution accepting task force report, creating special committee

RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Furman University accepts the Task Force on Slavery and Justice Report (the “Report”) with due appreciation expressed for the scholarship and thoroughness of the Task Force on this important project, carried out over more than a year of careful study; and it is

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees acknowledges the sentiment and spirit of the Report as it undertakes its review and consideration of the Report and its recommendations; and it is

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees endorses actions already taken or about to be taken by the Furman administration and faculty on recommendations related to their purview in managing the university and directing its curriculum, respectively, as outlined to the board during its Fall 2018 meeting; and it is

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees hereby desires to devote significant time and attention to the issues and recommendations as did the Task Force and thus creates a Special Committee on Slavery and Justice (the “Special Committee”) to consider the Report and its remaining recommendations, meet with members of the Task Force and other University constituencies it deems relevant and contemplates the historical, societal, precedential, financial and aesthetic considerations of adopting the Report’s recommendations; and it is

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Special Committee will deliver its report to the Board of Trustees at its Spring 2019 meeting, responding to the Report’s recommendations; and it is

FURTHER RESOLVED, that at its Winter 2019 meeting the Board of Trustees will conduct a special workshop facilitated by Juan Johnson, a former trustee and national expert on diversity and inclusiveness, to engage in meaningful dialogue regarding the Report and its importance to Furman University as a national liberal arts institution; and it is

FURTHER RESOLVED, that the members of the Special Committee shall be the following Trustees:

  • Baxter Wynn, Chair
  • Kevin Bryant
  • Robert Blocker
  • Robert Hill
  • Rachelle Thompson
  • Lee Dilworth
  • Francie Heller
  • Rick Timmons
  • Dick Riley, Emeritus
  • Elizabeth Davis, ex officio
  • Alec Taylor, ex officio
  • Ed Good, ex officio

Board of Trustees Announcement Event

October 29, 2018 Campus announcement about Furman’s next steps in regard to the “Seeking Abraham” report and its recommendations. Speakers include Elizabeth Davis, President of Furman University; Alec Taylor, chair of the Furman Board of Trustees; Brandon Inabinet, associate professor of communication studies and co-chair of the task force; senior Chelsea McKelvey, a student member of the task force; and Michael Jennings, Furman’s chief diversity officer.

Furman University || Board of Trustees Announcement Event from Furman University on Vimeo.

The Seeking Abraham Report

Media Coverage

News coverage of Furman’s efforts

Coverage of other universities undertaking similar efforts

Students working with professor in special collections

Seeking Abraham Report

The Task Force on Slavery and Justice’s report on Furman’s historical connections to slavery.

Read the report

The Seeking Abraham Project

Inspired by Abraham, a former slave of James C. Furman, the Seeking Abraham Project investigates the university’s historical connections with slavery.

Visit the Seeking Abraham site
Student analyzing photograph in special collections

Campus gates in the spring, fountain in view

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