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Furman's Legacy of Slavery: A Digital Exhibition: Turn of the Century

Turn of the Century

In 1920, eighty years after James C. Furman helped lead South Carolina into a bloody and disastrous Civil War, Furman University held its first Founders’ Day celebration. James C. Furman, the university’s first president and its guiding light through the school’s critical decades, was focus of the celebration. The speakers spared no praise. Colonel R. B. Watson of Ridge Springs, South Carolina, lauded young men in the audience for “striving to live up the ideals” of James C. Furman, the man “towering like Saul among his brethren, for nigh unto half a century.”

The speakers chose to embrace rather than evade Furman’s views on secession and slavery. The Honorable S. E. McFadden ’93, delivered the keynote, recalling that Furman “in his latter days...appeared as a venerable man, come down from a former generation....He was the most saintly, Godly and Christ-like man I ever knew, or hope to ever know” and relishing that Furman “early imbibed the doctrine of States’ Rights, and found the amplest support for the establishment and maintenance of slavery....Dr. Furman believed in the Constitution of the United States and in its sanction of slavery, expressed and implied, in States’ Rights and in the doctrine of secession as the logical corollary thereof.”

Clark Murphy

Portrait of Clark Murphy

Entre Nous, Greenville Female College, 1911


Clark Murphy

Clark Murphy is another figure recovered from obscurity. Born into slavery at Cross Anchor in Spartanburg County, Murphy was leased by his owner to the Greenville Woman’s College (GWC), which later merged with the all-male Furman University. Tagged with the patronizing but semi-respectable title “Uncle,” Murphy worked as a custodian and groundkeeper at the women’s campus for more than three decades after emancipation. Popular with the students, Uncle Murphy cut wood to heat the dormitory rooms, ran personal errands, and delivered mail across the campus. Murphy’s passing was prominently noted in the GWC yearbook, and his memory lived on in the minds of GWC women for generations before fading with the merger and Furman’s move to its new campus.


After 1870, Murphy and his family lived on the campus in the former wooden classroom building. He is here pictured in the first college yearbook from 1901. The yearbook was published in 1902 and 1903, but did not include mention of him, and then ceased publication until 1911, when it was renamed the Entre Nous. Only in the 1911 volume was Clark Murphy’s full name and biographical details included.

Let's acknowledge and appreciate the physical, mental, and emotional labor of Clark Murphy, and of those at Furman who engaged in arduous labor in the back end of the operations of both the Greenville Women's College (GWC)and Furman University. Murphy was honored by the women of GWC by dedicating the college's bell that Murphy himself rang every morning to summon students to the classroom.