New Furman task force taking “hard look” at University’s slavery history

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GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA-TV) – Furman University is taking a hard look at their history. A new task force is investigating the school’s connections to slavery in the 1800s.

Furman officials behind this task force call this a proactive, not reactive, measure towards increased social justice. The more they know about the past, the better they can be in the future.

“You know, I always think that the two most shameful episodes in American history are the genocide of the American Indians who were here when Columbus arrived and our legacy of slavery,” said Dr. George Shields

Shields knew Furman University was a southern school with a likely controversial history; so, when he came on to Furman’s administration in 2016, he wanted to confront their past.

“Education is really the only way we can solve this. If we don’t understand our past, we can’t really move forward and do better in the future,” said Shields.

Now, through the new “Taskforce for Slavery and Justice,” they are steps closer to knowing the best way forward.

“One is the process by which an educational institution takes a hard look at itself and reports the truth and isn’t ashamed of it and says ‘this is the past’, now we are going to move forward,” said Shields.

This task force is similar to one founded at Clemson University in 2015 as a reaction to increased calls on campus for diversity, inclusion and historical recognition. Clemson’s newly released plan outlines efforts to tell the continuing story through respecting their roots, especially the slave beginnings.

At Furman, their task force will make similar calls as they see fit, as part of a 26 school consortium of colleges across the US and Canada.

Some say they’re already ahead of the curve.

“There is a power to having a task force without having an inciting incident, so it means that we as a university and as a community are doing this because we want to, not because our hand is being forced,” said Courtney Thomas, a task force member and 2015 graduate of Furman.

Shields said the task force will make determinations to the trustees on whether they should place historical plaques or change the names of buildings. In the meantime, he said Furman is celebrating inclusion with the fall’s freshman class being the most diverse in campus history.

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