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Come, and Be Inspired

Sarah Reese ’71 H’14 and Lillian Brock Flemming ’71 M’75 H’14 in 2014 after Furman conferred upon both an honorary Doctor of Humanities.

By Furman News

Furman is honoring the brilliant, courageous lives of Sarah Reese ’71 H’14 and Lillian Brock Flemming ’71 M’75 H’14.


They were teenagers when the weight of the era sought to crush them.  

Furman University is honoring Sarah Reese ’71 H’14 and Lillian Brock Flemming ’71 M’75 H’14 by displaying their portraits prominently on campus in recognition of their profound impact on Furman and broader community. 

“Through these honors, we invite all who come to Furman to be inspired by their remarkable contributions – lives shaped by creativity, courage and a love for community,” says Furman President Elizabeth Davis. 

But Sarah Reese and Lillian Brock Flemming would more than prevail against segregation and the open racism of the time. They would uplift generations of students and help advance our society. For Reese and Flemming, their college years were only the beginning. 

Following the work of the Task Force on Slavery and Justice and its “Seeking Abraham” report, the Board of Trustees in 2018 approved recommendations from its Special Committee to honor the alumnae. 

“Through the hard work and dedication of the Task Force, committees and many members of our community, our campus increasingly reflects our commitment to truth, accuracy and inclusivity by telling a more complete history of the university,” says Davis. 

“These latest honors continue this progress.” 

Reese and Flemming were among the first Black students to enroll at Furman after the university desegregated in 1965. At that time, a close friendship developed between the women and Joseph Vaughn ’68, the first Black undergraduate student at Furman. The trio of friends pursued their degrees while fighting for racial equality in historic moments, such as the protest of the Orangeburg Massacre, and the everyday instances of racism they experienced on Furman’s campus and in Greenville in the late 1960s and early ’70s. 


Flemming committed her life to educating, leading and uniting her beloved Greenville community. She did so as a Greenville City Council member and through her service to public education, a variety of civic organizations and her alma mater. She has served on the Greenville City Council since 1981 and devoted her professional life to public education. After 46 years of service to Greenville County Schools, Flemming retired in 2017.  

She was first a high school mathematics teacher and later a professional employment recruiter.  Flemming served as the president of the Municipal Association of South Carolina and of the Greenville Blue Star Mothers-Chapter 3, and is a former Furman trustee and board chair of Southernside Block Partnership, Inc. In addition to the installation of a commissioned portrait of Flemming, a new distinction, the Lillian Brock Flemming Award, will be presented at Convocation each year, beginning this year, to a member of the Furman student body, faculty, staff or alumni in recognition of work that fosters thriving communities.


When Reese was growing up in Pelzer, South Carolina, she would sing in the woods, causing neighbors to talk about the young girl’s remarkable voice in the grocery store. Reese would become a world-renowned opera singer. 

At a time when Black opera singers faced even greater barriers, she made her New York debut in 1981 and went on to perform with the greatest orchestras and conductors in the world. Reese was named principal artist with the New York Metropolitan Opera and artist-in-residence at the Opera Company of Boston, where she was also principal artist during the late ’80s. She was the featured soloist on the 1993 Grammy Award-winning recording, “Prayers of Kierkegaard,’’ with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  

In 1995, she gave her Carnegie Hall debut with The American Composers Orchestra in 1995 and played various roles including the Priestess in “Aida” and Musetta in “La Boheme.” She performed with the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors, including Andrew Davis, Leslie Dunner and Herbert von Karajan. In 2013, Reese was named a Yale Distinguished Music Educator. The following year, Furman conferred upon both Reese and Flemming an honorary Doctor of Humanities.  

Furman will name the Furman Lyric Theatre, which stages full opera and musical productions on campus, the Sarah Reese Lyric Theatre, so it may serve as a public recognition of her immeasurable gifts and influence. The university also will commission a portrait of her to display in the Music Library along with a plaque containing a biographical sketch.