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Joseph Vaughn statue planning underway; Furman Hall lettering being replaced

Last updated November 20, 2019

By Tom Evelyn, Vice President for University Communications

Following a recommendation of the “Seeking Abraham” report, a university working group has suggested a location for the Joseph Vaughn statue and place of reflection and celebration in front of the James B. Duke Library, where Furman’s first African American student was photographed in an iconic image.

Early concepts from the Baltimore-based landscape architectural firm, Mahan Rykiel, show the Joseph Vaughn statue standing on the front-right corner of the library steps on a path that would “interrupt” the walkway. A grassy area interspersed with short walls would provide seating and space to acknowledge other individuals who have contributed to the university’s history.

Early concept drawing of the layout for the Joseph Vaughn statue that will be placed on the front-right corner of the library steps

This is an early concept drawing of the layout for the Joseph Vaughn statue and place of reflection and celebration on the front-right corner of the library steps. The design is subject to change and the approval of the Board of Trustees.

Mahan Rykiel conducted a two-day workshop earlier this month to gather information from the working group and to begin developing plans for the site. Work is underway to create detailed plans and renderings that will be shared in the coming months. The plans and location must be approved by the Furman Board of Trustees.

The working group will soon begin interviewing sculptors. The statue itself may take up to a year to complete, once the artist is selected. The university could break ground on the space as early as this spring.

Working groups progressing

The Joseph Vaughn working group is one of several groups consisting of faculty, staff, students and trustees that are developing key components of the recommendations approved by the Furman Board of Trustees this past May related primarily to building names and monuments. A special committee of the board based its recommendations on those provided by the Task Force on Slavery and Justice in the Seeking Abraham report.

That report made a number of other recommendations related to curriculum and programming and to administration that are being pursued by faculty and staff, respectively. With the board’s endorsement, the administration immediately increased the Joseph Vaughn Scholarship to $1 million in annual awards, and members of the faculty have already implemented several academic programs, such as the Seeking Abraham alternative spring break.

Another working group that has been assigned to develop context is taking an inventory of signage and markers around campus to determine which ones need to be updated or rewritten and what information needs to be added. That group is preparing the language for the plaques to note the renaming of Furman Hall (removing “James C.”) and the naming of Lakeside Housing for Clark Murphy.

Over the winter break, the university will replace the Furman Hall lettering, which will require temporarily closing several entrances for safety. The working group expects the new plaque for Furman Hall to be complete in the spring, when the university will celebrate the unveiling.

“These efforts represent an opportunity to alter our campus landscape so that it more fully reflects not only the diversity of individuals who have contributed to the life of this university, but also the values we espouse today,” said Distinguished University Public Historian and Scholar Courtney Tollison, who is also a member of the Joseph Vaughn and context working groups. “Like the task force that preceded it, the implementation process continues to be thoughtful and intentional. It is critical that we do this well.”

Another working group is reviewing the university’s mission, vision, and character and values statements, as well as the motto. A fourth group is discussing the future use and purpose of Cherrydale Alumni House. The university expects the work of these groups to continue for at least a year, with opportunities in the coming months for the Furman community to provide feedback.

Academic Affairs is establishing the Seeking Abraham Academic Initiative Committee to review curricular and programmatic recommendations from the Seeking Abraham report that have not already been implemented and any new recommendations that are not under the purview of the board or the administration.

For more information and updates on these and other Seeking Abraham initiatives, please visit

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