Stained glass window

Home > Furman University Resources > Religious Controversies

Religious Controversies that Shaped Furman University
Created by Eric Gray, Reid Hettinger, Kelly Pittl, and Jamie Tyson
for History 21: Issues in American History, 2004-2005.

Many controversies have come up in the history of Furman University. However, no controversy has threatened the institution as a whole more than the controversy over who should be able to select the school’s trustees: Furman itself or the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Over a period of nineteen months, the school would battle the SCBC and start on a path from which it could not return—a total split with the convention.

During a period of integration across the United States, for Furman University to remain segregated would have hurt the Universities chances of academic prestige. Gordon Blackwell knew that Furman would not become a great school academically if it did not take the best students regardless of race. The fight that ensued between the South Carolina Baptist Convention and Furman resulted in the enrollment of four African-American students in 1965 but not before much resistance from the SCBC.

Throughout the 20th century, the debate over fraternities and other social organizations, on the campus of Furman University, has been a heated topic between the university trustees and the South Carolina Baptist Church. The Church believed that fraternities were both irritation and disruption to the administration and students. Furthermore, fraternities did not promote the values and behaviors established by the Church on becoming a good Christian. In 1962, Fraternities were expelled both on the campus and off. But, in 1992 when Furman University broke ties with the South Carolina Baptist Church, Fraternities were quickly restored.

Herbert Gezork was a religion professor who taught at Furman in the late 1930’s. He was a young, inspired individual who came to the U.S. from Germany to escape Nazism and share his Christian beliefs. What he didn’t know is that he would become the center of controversy and eventually be expelled from Furman. The circumstances and events of Gezork’s situation became very influential. In the years that followed, many changes were brought to Furman as a result of Gezork’s dismissal.

Created by Eric Gray, Reid Hettinger, Kelly Pittl, and Jamie Tyson