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Room named in Vaughn’s honor

Joseph Vaughn junior year photo (Bonhomie 1967)

Joseph Vaughn junior year photo (Bonhomie 1967)

Furman University renamed its MultiCultural Room in honor of Joseph Vaughn, the first African-American student to attend Furman, and held a dedication ceremony Saturday, October 25.

A Greenville native, Vaughn enrolled at the university in January 1965 and graduated in 1968. He was raised in Greenville by a single mother and served as president of the student body at Sterling High School, an African-American high school in Greenville.  In the early 1960s, students from Sterling participated in protests to desegregate the city airport, main library, skating rink and lunch counters.

Furman’s board of trustees passed a racially non-discriminatory admission policy in late 1963 and reaffirmed that policy in 1964. Furman searched for “an appropriate African-American student to admit,” and hand-selected Vaughn, who also was a member of the National Honor Society. He attended one semester at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., before enrolling at Furman.

While at Furman, Vaughn made friends, became involved with campus activities, such as cheerleading and the Southern Student Organizing Committee. He also organized and led a rally in support of students at South Carolina State University soon after the Orangeburg Massacre in 1968 and later  marched in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who had been assassinated.

He taught English in the Greenville County School District until he retired from teaching in 1982. He was elected president of the South Carolina Education Association in 1981. He died in 1991 in Columbia, remaining a social and political activist throughout his life.

Also, two days before Vaughn enrolled, three African-American educators – Joseph Adair, William Bowling, and James Daniel Kibler – enrolled as graduate students at the university.

Furman is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its desegregation journey’ throughout the 2014-2015 academic year with lectures, events, a history of the school’s desegregation efforts and more.

“We were tossing around ideas” to celebrate Vaughn and “landed on this” to acknowledge his importance in Furman’s history, said Idella Glenn, Ph.D., a Furman graduate and former assistant vice president for student development and director of diversity and inclusion.

The overall celebration is to show Furman’s acknowledgement of desegregation as “a milestone event,” she said. Between five percent and six percent of Furman’s study body is African American, another three percent to four percent is Asian American, two percent to three percent is Latino and about  three percent identify as international students.

Around 15 percent of Furman’s student body is multicultural, she said.

“It is much better than it was when I came here,” she said, but less than the percentage of multicultural residents of South Carolina or the country.

The Joseph Vaughn Room is a place for Furman’s multicultural students to read, study, hang out, and hold meetings of various organizations, said Nancy Cooper, Furman’s coordinator for volunteer services.

The ribbon cutting for the renamed Joseph Vaughn Room was held during Furman Homecoming events Saturday, with some of Vaughn’s family in attendance. Following the ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication, the Black Alumni Association held a brunch to honor black alumni, the renamed room and to wish Glenn a farewell. After 18 years at Furman, she is leaving for Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

Last updated October 29, 2014
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director