Adare Smith was in Furman University’s Trone Student Center one day when she noticed a plaque honoring the man who broke the color barrier there in 1965. For Marcus Tate, it wasn’t until he attended Furman that he learned that that man was his cousin.
Fifty-five years after Joseph Vaughn became the school’s first African American student, Tate and Smith participated in the university’s inaugural commemoration of the Greenville trailblazer and the day he arrived on campus — and made history.
“Jan. 29 being so close to February, you really couldn’t ask for a more perfect gateway into celebrating Black History Month,” says Smith, 21, an English major from Greenwood.
“We don’t have to look to all of these outside places or to all these people who are exclusively in history books to look for black history. Black history is right here where we’re standing, where we go to class every day.”
Tate, 35, a Furman alumnus and now digital marketing director at Steve White Auto Group, was 7 when Vaughn, his grandmother’s cousin, died.
Vaughn, whose great-grandfather was born into slavery, said in a 1986 speech that he enrolled in Furman not as part of any movement, “but I was equally determined that I was coming to Furman to be ‘Joe Vaughn: student,’ not ‘Joe Vaughn: black student.’”
After graduating cum laude in 1968, Vaughn taught English in Columbia and Greenville for 13 years. He died in 1991 at age 45.
“Being connected to him as a family member is incredibly humbling,” Tate says. “I’m very grateful to have an example that’s in the bloodline.
“At times, it’s kind of intimidating because you think you can’t you live up to that, but the more I learned about Joseph, the more I became comfortable with accepting what everyone told me — that we were very kindred, similar spirits.”
Says Smith: “He acts like a constant reminder that there is a place for us. I feel like all of us can fall under this big umbrella of Joseph Vaughn and the other African American students who were here to integrate Furman.”
Tabernacle Baptist Church will host the Joseph Vaughn Oratorical Competition Feb. 15. Furman and Alpha Phi Alpha Greenville Foundation co-sponsor the contest, which encourages public speaking skills among students in the spirit of Vaughn and of Martin Luther King Jr. For information, contact Mike Chatman of the Alpha Phi Alpha Greenville Foundation at [email protected] or 864-906-7078.