The oldest private college in South Carolina says it will create a new task force to learn more about how slavery shaped the 191-year-old institution.
Furman University was founded by the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 1826, but did not move to its current location in north Greenville until the 1950s. The college’s namesake former Southern Baptist Convention president Richard Furman was a slavery supporter who helped craft the organization’s position defending slavery as biblically-supported and moral for economic reasons if masters were “just and humane.”
Communication Studies professor Brandon Inabinet will lead the task force. Inabinet said he approached school leaders about the idea while still a student in the early 2000s. “We just thought it was time,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “We have such a huge link here in South Carolina to slavery and to its past. And it’s time we talk about that.
The Task Force on Slavery and Justice includes Furman historians, social scientists, staff members, and student writers and leaders. History Professor Steve O’Neill will research the school’s archives and historical documents to learn more about slave’s role in the institution. He’ll examine if slaves helped build older campus buildings, worked on staff prior to the Civil War or if students brought personal slaves with them.
The group will then recommend ways to recognize slaves for any role they might have played in the university’s early history.
“We really don’t know a lot about Furman’s history in that way,” Inabinet said. “But, once we do, we think we can be a more welcoming place for people of different backgrounds that have links to that side of the story.”
For its first two decades, Furman’s campus shifted between Edgefield, Sumter and Fairfield counties before moving to Greenville in 1851. It dropped its affiliation with the Baptist Convention in 1991.
To help with its outreach, Furman also joined the Universities Studying Slavery Consortium. The Virginia-based consortium consists of 26 colleges in North America working to shine a light on their previous links to slavery. Clemson University and the University of South Carolina are also members of the consortium.
Editor’s note: Initial reporting incorrectly identified the school’s namesake as “Thomas Furman.” The pastor’s name was actually “Richard.”