Fifty years ago, Joseph Vaughn walked across Furman University’s campus to register for classes, ending segregation at the institution. Vaughn’s arrival marked the culmination of a debate among administrators, faculty and students that lasted more than a decade.
The debate over desegregation reached Furman’s student body in 1954, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1955, two students—Joan Lipscomb and Charles King—published articles supporting desegregation in the student literary magazine, The Echo. Fearing criticism, faculty members and administrators confiscated all 1,500 copies of the magazine.
Over the next 10 years, the university was deeply divided over the issue. Following a resolution from faculty calling for the desegregation of Furman, the Board of Trustees voted to open the university to “all qualified applicants” in 1963. However, the South Carolina Baptist Convention asked Furman to delay its decision by at least one year—a request that was honored by the trustees.
By the time Furman Board of Trustees voted, in December 1964, to admit the school’s first black student, the fight over segregation in the state and nation had already been decided. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed by Congress in July, forced southern colleges and universities to desegregate or lose funds, thus completing a task that had moved painstakingly through the federal courts since the 1940s.