When Amos Leroy “Roy” Willis petitioned the College of Arts & Sciences to accept him as a student in 1959, he cited Thomas Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” passage from the Declaration of Independence. The administration eventually granted him permission to matriculate, and Willis (Col ’62) became the first African-American student to enroll in, and graduate from, the College of Arts & Sciences. Willis’ first few years at the University proved successful, and he was selected to live on the Lawn from 1961 to 1962, years during which selection was based solely on academic achievement.
“It was great living on the Lawn,” Willis says. “It was a real honor to live there and it’s so beautiful. I often tell folks I’ve lived a lot of different places, but this might have been my best address.”
In February, Willis was honored with a plaque at his old room, 43 West Lawn. “You will find very few plaques around Grounds,” President John Casteen said at the ceremony. “They are reserved for the most extraordinary people and extraordinary things.”
Throughout his time at the University, Willis actively promoted racial equality. After the historic Greensboro, N.C., sit-ins, Willis and several other African-American students picketed the off-Grounds University Theater, which was segregated.
After graduating with a degree in chemistry from UVA, Willis earned an MBA from Harvard University. He is currently the CEO of Roy Willis and Associates Inc., a California-based real estate development consulting firm. Willis’ twin children, Nia Willis-Raymond (Col ’93) and Maceo K. Willis (Col ’94), are mentioned in the text of the plaque as “among the first second-generation African-American graduates from the College.”