Today, April 16, Furman will unveil Joseph Vaughn Plaza in honor of the University’s first Black undergraduate student. Located directly in front of the James B. Duke library at the heart of Furman’s campus, Vaughn’s stately statue further cements Furman’s commitment to confronting the past and guarantees that future students will remember the sacrifice and courage that was required to integrate our institution.
Though Vaughn’s statue ensures that he will always be remembered as the first Black student to step foot on campus in Jan. 1965. But bronze can convey only so much of Vaughn’s magnanimity, exuberance, and courage. To his friends, students, and family, “Joe” is more than a statue. He is a memory, a mentor, an advocate, and a protector.
In this video, two friends, one former student, and a third cousin describe Vaughn’s unforgettable personality and energetic spirit. From theater performances to pep rallies, Vaughn’s love for life was evident to those that knew him.
Lillian Brock Flemming grew up “neighborhood friends” with Vaughn. They went to church together, attended Furman together, and taught together in the Greenville County Schools. He is the godfather of one of her children. “Furman was not ready for Joseph Vaughn, but he helped to break them in,” she said.
June Thomas, formerly June Manning attended Furman in 1967 and ‘68. Vaughn had advocated for her admission to the University, and she described him as a “spirit booster.” With “very few” black students on campus, Thomas explained, “we sort of hung together.” “I miss your exuberance and I miss you,” she concluded.
Babette Jones was Vaughn’s student at Mauldin High School, where he taught English. From her first year to her last, when she served as Senior Class President, Jones recalled Vaughn’s commitment to making sure that “learning was fun and that you got what you needed to move to the next level.” Jones said “Mr. Vaughn” was a “joyous type guy.” He was “not just a great teacher,” she said, “he was a mentor, a father, a big brother all in one… he loved all students.”
Marcus Tate ‘12, knew of his third cousin Joseph Vaughn. But he was unfamiliar with his relative’s monumental role in Furman’s history until one of his history professors mentioned Vaughn in class. Today, through conversations with his family, Tate has come to better know “who Joseph Vaughn was.” His family remembers his cousin as someone who challenged those around him to “be better than they were” and encouraged them to “excel at education and follow their dreams.”
Just as Joseph Vaughn’s statue stands at the heart of campus his memory lives on in the hearts of those he knew and whose lives he changed forever.