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Vernon Burton ’69 honored for lifetime achievement in Southern history

Vernon Burton ’69 / Credit: Clemson University

Last updated November 28, 2022

By Jerry Salley ’90

Orville Vernon Burton ’69, the Judge Matthew J. Perry Distinguished Professor of History at Clemson University, has been given the 2022 John Hope Franklin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Southern History by the Southern Historical Association.

The award, honoring outstanding contributions to scholarship on the American South, has been given every five years since 2007. Burton is only the fourth scholar to receive this award.

In addition to history, Vernon is also a professor of pan-African studies, sociology and computer science at Clemson. He has served as president of the Southern Historical Association and the Agricultural History Society, and has written several prize-winning essays and books of history, including “The Age of Lincoln.” Much of his work has chronicled the struggle for civil rights and racial justice in the South. His 2021 book, “Justice Deferred: Race and the Supreme Court,” was co-authored with Charleston civil rights attorney and Constitutional scholar Armand Derfner.

In making its determination, the prize committee pointed specifically to Burton’s tireless contributions to “vital questions of public policy as an expert witness on redistricting, civil rights and voting rights.”

“Over the years he has been an inspirational model not only of scholarly excellence but also for his remarkable teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and, especially, for his deep commitment to social justice,” said SHA President Steven Hahn at the award ceremony during the association’s annual meeting in November in Baltimore, Maryland. “I can think of no one who is more deserving of what is the SHA’s most coveted award.”

The award’s namesake, John Hope Franklin, was a former president of the SHA, a professor and researcher at several universities and the author of many acclaimed books of history, including “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans,” published in 1947.

“I am so very humbled and honored, and I hope that Furman University feels responsible for this honor,” said Burton. “As I have said many times, Furman and the wonderful professors and students there really changed my life. I would have never become a historian and selected as my career the last good profession in America except for the nourishment, mentoring and encouragement I received in my undergraduate years at Furman.”

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