The public is witness to speakers and activists looking to make peace with the past. Southern history and identity is evaluated.
By: Lane Fahey, Asst. News Editor
Furman’s history with slavery has been at the center of discussion in a community-led initiative for over a year now. The task force, known as Seeking Abraham, recently assembled to sponsor three CLPs (Cultural Life Programs). Its goal is to to open up and engage the public in a conversation about the university’s slave connections.
Seeking Abraham is a study about how slavery and Furman are linked. The University Provost George Shields initiated the task force. Various students, staff and faculty have been appointed onto the team since the spring of 2017.
“You can think of [the task force] as a two step process,” Associate Professor of Communications Dr. Brandon Inabinet said. “We’re going to write that history and talk with a lot of people first…[then] winter break is going to be kind of our transition point where we’ll say ‘ok the history is written, and now we need to swing into the mode of, what does this mean? How do we make this meaningful on campus?’’”
Seeking Abraham is named after a slave of James C. Furman, the first president of the university. While going through archives, a photograph of James C. Furman’s Cherrydale house shows Abraham from 1890. This is the only current photograph found to date, and serves as the the logo for Seeking Abraham.
To understand how the student body feels about Furman’s history with slavery, Seeking Abraham conducted a survey earlier this semester. The results were “overwhelming positive,” Inabinet said.
Felicia Furman* was spotlighted at the first CLP. She is a descendant of Richard Furman, the founder of Furman University. Felicia is a filmmaker who bases her films on slave history in her family. In 2014, Felicia started looking for answers to the slavery on her paternal side.
“I can’t say that I’m responsible for [slavery in her family],” Felicia said. “But I’m responsible for telling the truth about it.”
The first CLP premiered Felicia’s movie “Shared History: Families Linked Through Slavery”. Felicia spoke about the filmmaking process, while Mark Rumph, a descendant of a slave who was owned by Felicia’s maternal family, attended as well. Rumph and Felicia went back and forth about their own lives, and the stories they heard growing up.
“[Felicia] helped energize the effort to really begin the task force, and so then when we started, we said one of the very first things we need to do is have Felicia come to Furman and tell us about where she’s coming from,” Inabinet said.
Almost a week later, sociologist James W. Loewen hosted “U.S. History They Never Told Us.”
Two eyewitnesses reported a man cruising down Furman Mall flying a Confederate flag the night of the event. The man is seen regularly driving with the Confederate flag on Poinsett Highway.
To conclude the CLP series, Rhondda Thomas talked about her project “Call My Name” a week later. It covered the history of African Americans at Clemson University.
The three CLPs coincide with the broader discussion happening in the United States and in the media right now about how Southern history should be remembered on college campuses.
In July of 2018, the task force plans to publish a full-report of their initiatives. More information can be found at http://www.furmanhumanities.org/forum.
*The Paladin refers to Felicia by her first name to avoid confusion with the university itself.